We likely have a basic understanding of narrative – of beginning, middle and end. but there is much
more to telling a story, and different options available to us. There are no distinct categories of
narrative in relation to the photobook but most fall under the following categories, or are hybrids of
We could consider the ﬂat structure to be what Sweetman refers to as merely a collection of
images. But in some cases it can be appropriate. Especially when dealing with factual photobooks,
or concepts based on a topographic approach.
The arc structure is perhaps what we are most familiar with and can relate to Tzvetan Todorov’s
theory of narrative and equilibrium:
Disruption to equilibrium
Recognition of equilibrium
An attempt to restore equilibrium
Equilibrium restore / new equalibrium
(Some of my favourite films that have excellent narrative; 500 days of summer, fight club, the great beauty, the wolf of wall street and dans le maison)
This structure can be useful in designing photobooks although you must be sure to stay away from
something that creates to little engagement from the audience. Films are in most cases designed to
be watched passively and so there is an element of spoon-feeding an audience. the same should
not be true of your photobook.
The cluster sequence might seem at ﬁrst to be a little disorganized but actually it is far from it.
The cluster sequence is very common in photobooks and digital books and essentially splits up the
narrative arc – either into smaller narratives, or often into separate themes.
And then we can take these sections as chapters of a book perhaps, we can certainly easily return
to them, each having a slightly different reading after the knowledge of the sections that follow it.
And as well as these sections having a mini-narrative, we can also see that there can still be a
Todorov style arc here too.
All the structures we have looked at already require the reader to work, photobooks in almost all
cases are not designed to be viewed entirely passively. Even with a narrative arc we must work to put
pieces together. This is especially true in the scatter structure which relies heavily on the
connections that the viewer will make for themselves.
It is one of the very hardest structures to successfully employ as it requires the editor/photographer
to make very subtle connections or to tie the structure together with a motif or theme. When done
properly however it can be a very rewarding and personal read for the viewer.
Text can help give a strand of narrative that runs through this scattered structure, pairings of images
can also help or making choices based on aesthetics so that these disparate elements do not jar
with one another
Rhythm, ﬂow/pace – it is all important in the reading ad of course the sequencing of a
photobook. We must remember that our book will be read by a viewer and reading as we remember
is an experience
This is my most useful lecture to date, I found it interesting after reading a lot of photobooks through both terms to learn about the narrative of photo-books. There is not a best type of narrative, it is very much dependent on your project. I relate mostly to the Arc because I do watch and write a lot of films, so I am aware of the equilibrium theory. I do think however, it is very easy reading if its like that, which would be good if the audience was children or teenagers, but for a target audience of middle aged people, I could be a bit more creative. When I talk about my images I always say that ‘I just showing the truth, giving farmers a platform to show who they are, what they do and how much they can be trusted’, so the obvious choice would be the flat structure. The flat structure will be addressed in my book, and it will seem like the narrative. But I like the idea of the cluster, breaking up the story to make it seem disorganised. I think for my photo-book, it would be a cluster, but reversed. I’d present my images with an understandable sequence. Having the portrait, then an object or scenery shot that relates in message and colour to that portrait, and the narrative would be falt. But every now and then, then this sequence would be separated by an anomaly, an image on its own. This will tell the reader that something isn’t right, that everything isn’t all happy faces, but they won’t recognise the meaning initially, they will probably assume its a mistake. I still keep to the order of portrait of a farmer or animal / animals on the right and object or scenery on the right, but sometimes don’t pair them together. This prevents it from being flat and creates more interest and more thinking from the reader. I hope the viewer would be able to follow the book well and not be confused by my take on the cluster narrative, but I do think it works best for my set of images. This was by far the most interesting and engaging lecture.