Saturday, June 25, 2011

Every picture tells a story

On his breakthrough 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart sang, 'Every picture tells a story, don't it?' I remember way back then, whenever I heard the song, I wanted to sing back, 'Yes, Rod, it does.' And I still get that same urge even now when I hear it on those golden oldie classic rock radio playlists.

I'm no singer, rapper or TV voice-over guy, so I tend not to sing, rap or speak it. I just think it (Yes, Rod, it does), which spares me those strange looks I've mentioned before.

Every picture tells a story, or more to the point a fragment of one, as there can be a whole fleshed-out story, themes, characters and sub-plots behind that picture just waiting to be told. Which means every picture can also be an inspiration for writers.

I was reminded of that this past fortnight when, in the midst of riots in Vancouver, a photo was snapped of a young couple lying in the middle of the road, kissing, while conflict and fires raged in the background.

That photo went viral on the internet, and made the print and broadcast news all over the world.

Yes, that photo was worth a thousand words, and yes, it told us a story of love and tenderness in the midst of chaos. It was also a whole lot more than that. The whole world was intrigued enough to want to know the full story behind that "moment" captured by camera.

The police had moved in after angry mobs went wild, burning and looting after their team lost an ice hockey final. (That's got to be a whole other story, doesn't it?)

When Alexandra Thomas was accidentally caught up in the melee, and reportedly beaten with a shield and knocked to the ground, her boyfriend, Scott Jones, held her in his arms and soothed her shock and hysteria with a kiss, a moment snapped by freelance photographer Richard Lam.

The story "told' by a picture can be depicted differently by the differing perceptions of all who see it. To an imaginative storyteller, a picture - any picture - can suggest a variety of different scenarios, complete with a beginning, middle and end.

Perhaps it was a real-life portrait that partly inspired Oscar Wilde to write 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'?

There were many famous photos throughout the last century that inspired debate, intrigue and various possibilities of the "story" behind them, one of the best known being another kiss - this one of a young French couple on the streets of Paris in 1950. Who were they? What became of them? Their identities remained a mystery until 1993 when the photographer Robert Doisneau revealed that the kiss had been staged, using two models. Doisneau was forced to reveal the secret in defence of a court action by a woman claiming to have been the girl in the picture. There's a whole other true-life story there, very different to the one in the photo.

The 1989 photo of a lone student, standing in front of communist tanks in Tiananmen Square in China, tells a story of oppression and the resolve of the human spirit. It's a picture that tells a powerful story, a picture that can ignite plot lines, both real and fictional, of the thousands caught up in that struggle, and of the tragedy of the massacre that followed.

Every picture tells a story. And every picture can suggest a mix of characters, plots, locations and emotions to authors, screenwriters, composers and songwriters.

Yes, Rod, it does.

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