Images by Maya Sharp: Untitled 2020, Untitled 2022

 

Maya Sharp is a recent graduate photographer and fiction writer; with specific interests in the gothic, storytelling and in place. Focusing much of her practice on the Yorkshire moors where she grew up, Maya brings a contemporary edge to romantic literacy and photographic tradition. Since graduating, she has found work as a photographer's assistant, learning more and more about photography every day.

 

 

‘A picture is worth 1000 words.’

There is an immediacy to photography and its communication style that transcends all other methods of storytelling. Literature, music, cinema. It transcends language, education, culture. Instantly absorbable, the photograph is readily viewed and understood by anyone, regardless of who they are. A child can understand a photograph just as well as an art history expert can. And all within the first moment of viewing the photograph. Photographs are snapshots of real life. They have stories to tell.

There are countless ways that stories are told: literature, ballet, pop music, film, painting - even abstract painting has a voice, a message, these paintings have something to say. That’s what stories are, a way of communicating ideas. All mediums have their strengths and their weaknesses when it comes to getting an idea across.

The still image has been used as a narrative medium for millennia; the Italian renaissance painters created rich visual narratives depicting religious scenes and folk tales. In an era where many people were not literate, the visual and the art gallery were valuable methods of storytelling.

 

How far photography can go in terms of storytelling is often under debate. What is storytelling? Is it enough to have a narrative without a plot? A clear cut, beginning, middle and end.

Photography is defined by restriction. A photographer must get their message across in one single still frame, or often a series of still frames. A photograph has to show something that is real, the camera cannot invent information like a typewriter or a paintbrush can. The photographer is bound by what is real, and what is accessible to them. So then, as a photographer, as a person with a desire to communicate, what is to be done?

The use of imagery that is already in our collective consciousness is one way photographers convey a story. Think Tom Hunter’s rehashing of Ophelia by Millais in his series, The Way Home - showing the tragedy and perhaps even self-inflicted nature of a young woman found drowned on her way home from a rave in Hackney. Viewers know the story of Ophelia, they know what is being referenced in the image, and this knowledge can be used to fill in the blanks about what happened to Tom Hunter’s woman.

Photography operates as a medium of open ended narratives, it does not provide all the answers, it does not try to. Instead photography generates intrigue by showing a glimpse of a moment and creating questions in the viewers mind. The answers are open to interpretation.

 

There is a photograph by William Eggleston of a man in business attire, perched on the end of a bed, in what appears to be a bare hotel room. In his hands he holds a glass, though we cannot see what he is drinking. His head is tilted downwards, his eye line too, giving him a look of thoughtful melancholy. A suitcase is open in the background. The image is startlingly mundane. Beige. Yet it has so much to say.

It appears as though the man is on a business trip, he is tired, perhaps he is homesick. He is having a nightcap before bed. Perhaps the story is so much more than that. Maybe he has run away from home, abandoning his wife and children. From the image it is impossible to say. Anything could be possible. Anything the viewer can imagine. The one certainty is the weight of the image. The darkened lighting, the mans downcast body language. There is a discontent and a feeling of loneliness. Whether that belongs to the photographer or the subject is unknown.

If this Eggleston image were a piece of literature much more would be known to us. We would likely know the man’s name, his age, his family. There would be a development of a plot that photography lacks. Where he is going. Where he has come from. But do we need to know all of this to get the feeling of the image? There is something enigmatic about seeing and not knowing. About witnessing the man’s plight without fully knowing it. There is an intimacy in seeing the unknowable emotion of a stranger and being able to say, yes, I too have felt that way.

 

See the photograph by William Eggleston described above here.

 

See more from Maya:

Instagram: @mayasharpphoto

Website: https://sharpmaya.myportfolio.com/

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