[Nov 16th Journal] Narrative: words and images

Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955)

This title on the list caught my eye immediately.  It brought overwhelming memories and feelings to mind of events from my past.  I hungrily read the entire book and loved it.

The author/photographer pairs an image with each line or two of text.  The content of the images is always related to the text, sometimes loosely and sometimes specifically.  The story jumps between characters and storylines, but all build upon the story of one person, Sister Mary Bradley, and her family and the world in which she lives.

The words and the photographs rely on each other: I don’t think they could be separated.  The words tie the photographs together and give you specific information about the relationships between people that you otherwise would not understand from the photos alone.  The photos give another layer of information, more personal and emotional.  You see the sweat dripping down someone’s skin, showing the hot summer day.  You can see the sadness in a child’s eyes, and the joy in a mother’s face.  Without the words, the story would still be there, but it wouldn’t be as detailed.

I chose these pages because the manner in which the images and text is paired is dependent on each other making the narrative particularly poignant and meaningful.  I also like that within this sequence, there are different types of photographs: dramatic, moving, urban, and portrait.

The first three images all have cars as their subject matter.  They each tell different stories of cars, but all show a certain wonder and desire for the automobile.

“Leastwise, that’s what Rodney tells me.  And cars:

All the young ones nowadays is just crazy about cars:

And no wonder, because the streets is just full of cars:”

(youth standing out on the streets just to gaze at cars)

(school children walking past cars in the morning, wishing their parents had one to drive them to school in)

(a street, filled with cars, but where’s my car?)

On the next page, though, the story gains another layer of information.

The image shows a woman, well-dressed, looking off into the distance.  Maybe she is sad.  Maybe she is just thoughtful.  The next image shows a man, well-dressed, waiting on a street corner.  What is he waiting for?  Is he on his way to work or to church?  These images, without the words, only get to one level.  Add the words:

“In Harlem lots of roomers have got cars bigger than the room they live in.  But ain’t nobody in our family got a car.  I wonder how come?”

Ah, they don’t have a car.  They desire a car.  Sadness.  A reminder every morning, as you stand, waiting for the bus, watching the shiny cars drive passed you, leaving you waiting in the sun.  Paired with the words, the images can be mined to another level, with more emotion, more feeling.



This next pairing is simply beautiful.  Solitude and Community.  Rich and Poor.  Two girls, two boys.  One’s got an elevator, one has to take the stairs.  One has walks down clean streets, the other opens fire hydrants in the summer.  These images alone are striking.  They tell so much about life.  With words, they become specific to the characters in the narrative… to Rodney.

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These next three spreads come later in the book.

I love the story they tell: of love, devotion, friendship, and carefree happiness.  These two stories show different aspects of life in Harlem.  One story is sad, the other is happy.  Both are equally as beautiful and equally as true.

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My narrative…

When I took my first stab at sequencing my images, I got really stuck.  I found it difficult to choose images and to sequence them to tell a story of my site.  I realized that was my downfall: I was trying to tell one overarching story of the entire site.  Anne reminded me that my original attraction to the site was it’s ability to tell the individual stories of its inhabitants.  I had in mind which images embodied rich stories and dynamic characters.  This week, I have been jotting down song lyrics and stories that have come to mind.  I plan to pair them with images and weave them together in order to narrate individual stories, that together will tell the collective story of the site.

The reading/looking assignment this week was really helpful.  I found The Sweet Flypaper of Life to be inspirational in the way I narrate my story.  I found the weaving together of different stories to be really rich and engaging.  I like that the narrator is having a conversation with the reader, gossiping about her family.  She jumps from one person to another, telling you all their secrets, strengths and weaknesses.  From the story of her grandchild, she moves to the story of cars, and the story of life.  I think that the technique of moving between types and scales of stories would work for my site.  It is simultaneously the story of the canons, and all the men who plunged gunpowder down their barrels, the green grass and all the dogs who playfully run across it every day, the residents, who use its path daily, displacing the gravel from the path, leaving behind a coffee cup, stuffed animal, or pair of reading glasses.

I aim to tell all of these stories.  I have a few lines, and i am working to weave them together.  My next big decision is whether to weave them all together, or have a series of short stories.  I think this time I am going to let the photos answer that question for me.


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