Narrative / Image / Fictional Spaces (extracts)
Noemie Goudal, Thesis, Royal College of Art
From the novel to the everyday anecdote, narratives are omnipresent in our modes of expression and communication. Universal, they grow in every culture, every place, every society and every age. When we first think about narrative and story telling, we think about something we all engage with. In his essay Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives, Roland Barthes pinpoints that ‘Narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural: is simply there like life itself ‘*(*Barthes, Roland, ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative’ in Image, Music, Text, ed. Stephen Heath, New York: Publisher Hill and Wang, 1978, p.79) From time immemorial, humans have cultivated the same passion – or impulse – to narrate, to share collective experiences based on common realities.
Able to be carried by articulated language, spoken or written, fixed or moving images, gestures, and the ordered mixture of all these substances: narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting, stained glass windows, cinema, comics, news items, conversation.
Stories are the general concern of mankind, rather than being ‘culture-specific’. They are translatable from one culture to another without fundamental changes, unlike the lyric or philosophical discourse. Barthes argues that the nature of narrative corresponds to the nature of culture and possibly to the nature of humanity itself. Indeed, even if narrative is considered to be a form of art, however modest, it does engage with artists as much as with non-artists. Complementing my photographic practice is the construction of a research analysis on the relation between a narrative and a unique image. After reading about narrative theories, or what Tzevetan Torodov coined, narratology, the study of narrative, I realised that very little has been studied specifically on visual narratives – as the most common tool used for narration is writing. I am however intending to work on the following problematic issue: what stories are told in images and how are they depicted?
In the first chapter of the essay, I will discuss the relationship between an image and its reference to stories that are already part of our collective memory, such as historical events, myths, legends and religious episodes. I have chosen the painting St Jerome in His Study by Antonello da Messina (1479) as a reference to support my argument (Fig.2 p…). This peculiar piece refers to the moment where St Jerome hides in the desert for several years with the aim of translating the Bible. Since his death in 380AC, Jerome’ s life has been told and depicted by numerous artists and has become an eminent and recurrent theme of representation. After analysing the composition of the story in this painting and the work ‘behind’ its construction, I intended to look at it from the viewer’s point of view. What does this painting tell me? What narrative do I build in my mind while looking at the image? By blending my own interpretation to the researches I have made on St Jerome’s life, I will experiment with the exercise of ‘narrating’ the tableau.
Secondly, I will expand the research on visual narratives within the contemporary art practice which have been an important issue in the artistic discourse. New forms of narratives – especially in photography – grew and evolved in the past decades and it is interesting to identify their limits and expansions. By the blend of imagined elements within a realistic framework, photographers invite the viewer into a wider narration that offers altered possibilities of interpretation and reapropriation.
Indeed, the mise en scene photograph – or what has been recently named the Photographic Tableau – is a constructed image which often blends reality with fictional elements and transports the viewer into a parallel realm which plays with the viewer’s imagination. Indeed, theorists such as Christian Mertz mention that the strength of photography stands within its lack of narrative structure,2 which gives place to the spectator to create his own story. Additionally, through the process of the story, the viewer composes his own mental images, recreating a separate sphere constructed in between a shared reality and an imaginary world.