The Stem of the Story

By Bella Pallett

We instinctively understand that objects, artefacts and photographs all highlight stories that are a part of our human journey, from the small moments to the big life experiences. These facets, things glanced at, experienced, make up the memories we inadvertently collect in our mind, without even trying. In portraiture images, a single glance captured can tell a multitude of stories and when this is caught and crafted to perfection, the artistry of photography and storytelling combine to create endless possibilities. The most human of stories and most connectable of emotions, the big and small life experiences we can so readily connect with. Read more in The Stem of the Story.

Capturing big moments through the lens throughout the past five decades, photographer Steve McCurry has adventured through rural villages to war zones and simply seen it all. Taking photos of children, each hinting at a unique narrative, his new photographic title Stories and Dreams blends a selection of images of children from 46 countries across the world.

The hardback book contains a collection of portraits of childhoods from a variety of backgrounds that depict human resilience and a wide array of emotions. Through his portraits, it is possible to imagine a whole life for the person captured through the lens depicting a single moment.

By taking images of children in their day to day life he displays his artistry through following and adapting to their narratives whilst telling a whole breadth of stories from around the world.

Through one glance it is possible to create an entire narrative through collective pieces and snapshots of a person’s life, and much like McCurry, British photographer David Stewart has created a series of the people who in small moments, created a big impact.

By looking through the lens at the people who impacted his life and career in a big way, Stewart is now working on an ongoing series of portraits of the people who have featured in his career and helped him to grow as an artist as he invites the viewer to uncover their stories in the series Featherstone Street.

The stem of the story

Included in the ongoing series of 25 portraits are a range of people who have helped him in a big way to get to where he is and grow his artform. Included are various assistants, his printer, designers of his books and even the person who gave him his very first commission as a photographer in his own right in 1984.

Known for his cleverly staged imagery, he symbolically flags the importance of the models by photographing them formally whilst not revealing the roles they have played in his life. He artfully elevates them to a near-celebrity status without revealing their identities in plain sight allowing the viewer to create their very own narrative by using these portraits as the stem of the story.

Using a contemporary take on famous artists such as renowned photographers Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, he plays with their styles and uses intricately staged imagery. Appearing initially very paired back, the portraits are minimal but always allow the model to be the centre focus. He includes subtle hints that reflect Stewart’s personal relationship with them and their individual roles and characters.

By giving the viewer subtle hints to the model’s life and story he successfully blends the art of portraiture with storytelling for the viewer to interact and engage with, much like the craft of McCurry through capturing these small moments that become bigger due to the emotions that are carried with them.

Stem of the story

Hundred Heroines is the only UK charity dedicated to advancing public awareness of women in photography and they are now launching the exhibition Object Artefact Photograph at the Grange Museum and Art Gallery. Advocating for the stories of some of the most insightful women in photography to be told, Hundred Heroines invites the viewer to see the objects as a visual aid to create a narrative.

Featuring pieces from 29 various artists, the objects provide big insight into the practices of some of the most inspiring women in photography. From a hand-written letter to a birdcage salvaged from a skip, each piece is individually unique and personal.

By reflecting an unusual way to discover more about the work of outstanding artists, the collection of pieces recounts the stories of some of today’s most significant artworks providing a large insight into a hidden world for the viewer to uncover.

Featuring two galleries, the North will host many artworks such as those from late Magnum photographer Eve Arnold and experimental photographer Monica Alcazar. In the South Gallery, there will be numerous photographs by Heroine’s from the past and present, including the late Madame Yevonde whose portraits show her avant-garde techniques and mastered craft will be displayed.

Set in the elegant Georgian house and the former home of the artist Sir William Nicholson, the collection is enhanced by a backdrop of contemporary photography and stories that contextualise them beyond their exhibition space highlighting their storytelling capacity in a big way.

Small moments that occur in the day-to-day but carry a big impact due to the emotions that are caught along with them can be transformed into something big. The stem of the story allows for a whole breadth of moments to be uncovered through objects, artefacts and photographs; whether it is large and impactful or less obvious yet still important. From children to famous artists, to those who have helped build famous artists, everyone has a story that can be told in a single snapshot or moment. That is ultimately the power of a photographic image.

If you enjoyed reading The Stem of the Story, read A Modern Renaissance here.

Find out more about Hundred Heroines at the Grange Museum and Art Gallery here.

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