The Four Values of Constructing a Series

The Four Values of Constructing a Series are a set of guidelines and direction for working within multiple photographs as a printed medium. I have used vague interpretations of these same values for years and they became the structure of the larger story within my quarterly film photography journal Serif & Silver. It is important to understand that photography as a medium should not have the single image shared as the end goal. Images, like words, can be used in conjunction with one another to provide a wider audience insight into the passion, inspiration, livelihood, and motivations behind both photographer and subject.

These values are to be used and referenced by all and kept in mind when working on photographic projects on a larger scale. It is our responsibility as photographers not only to elevate our own work, but to elevate photography and its interaction with the world as an artistic form. And it is my strong desire that this manifesto can be shared and expanded upon through the insight and input of many photographers. 

Part One: The Collection 

When looking at any series of images there are multiple defining characteristics. As humans the need and desire to sort, organize, and catalog is built in to our existence. It is how we recognize faces, recall names, and can easily find our way to that bizarre restaurant we’ve only visited once before. However when it comes to translating this into photography as a whole it is easy to lose sight of the completion of our work. 

Photography and Photographers yearn for the compilation of images. Unfortunately this sits outside of much of the current workflow that we employ. Through years of Pavlonian training with Social Media we are encouraged not only to post in the singular, but modify our working methods of photography in order to reach wider audiences and receive more immediate satisfaction. In order to better counter-act this we need to remove our current goals of sharing, likes, and engagement.  

In their place the following must be established: work towards a singular message across multiple photographs. 

By implementing this mentality we can look much further than the single frame and create bodies of work that are concise and direct through ideals such as changing landscapes and communities, rather than the all too common subject titles of portraits and landscapes. These vague subjects are designed to operate as a catch all for the photographer without vision allowing them to take casual images and present them as if it was a planned decision. Rather by defining our goals outright we are able to accomplish them through one of two methods.  

The first follows standard photographic process. By creating a vision and message that will be portrayed through your images you can then photograph in such a way that gets you closer to completion. This tried and true method allows us to spend more time up front refining our message and less time shooting the images themselves. However where it carries strength it also carries weakness. By focusing too much on the outset it can be easy to succumb to a lack of motivation as your goals have become too narrow, and anything outside can be seen as a failure on the photographers part. 

The second reverses the first methodology and encourages shooting before concept. The tactics used here serve as support for the ideals behind the collection. It should be said that there is more work in all aspects of creation except for the beginning. Where the first method says planning is required before depressing the shutter, this method puts the planning and more difficult workflow at the end.  

To get out and shoot offers multiple benefits. When allowed to focus on composition regardless of subject we are able to implement images into multiple series but more importantly it allows us to step away from our work until enough time has passed until the vision becomes more clear. This latter aspect, one of patience and aging is key. By putting ourselves outside of the standard shoot and distribute workflow we can better reflect and judge our own work without bias to ensure the images contained within any given series meet the goals of what was set out to accomplish. 

It is within the above methodologies that the collection comes to be and we begin to build our series. Specific selections of images from prior experiences come together in such a way that a thought can be conveyed, regardless of the presented order. 

Part Two: The Pair 

Beyond our ability to recognize patterns, we also have the desire to translate that ability into spotting differences. Minute changes that appear across areas of our interaction with the natural and man made worlds surrounding us. This allows us to determine friend from foe based on nothing more than appearance, and when applied to the collection offers support for images when positioned aside one another. 

Similar to The Collection, The Pair has been deconstructed after years of individual photographs shared and we must look further back to the photo album or photo storage box to reveal better storytelling. Because so little thought is offered to the corresponding images the single photo finds itself being drowned out due to a lack of preparation by the series creator. 

It is through this that the pair of images becomes the second step of the construction of a series. Built on the notion that a proper photo series will end up in the printed form, be it a gallery or photo book we must recognize the images on either side of any given photo.  

While at first glance this appears to encompass a trio rather than the pair it is necessary to work within the confines of two images, and allow the third to act as a comma within the larger story structure. 

This arc that continues between corresponding pages can be developed through multiple areas of the photo itself that get progressively more complex and rely on the photographer to ensure the complete message is still conveyed. These areas can be attributed similarly to how a photo is constructed in the following forms: Subject, Color and Tone, Composition, Message. 

Starting with the simplest form of connection for The Pair lies we can look more closely at subject matter. As the bulk of what any given photograph is composed of, your subject carries the most direct relation to any other image. 

Moving forward we come to color and tone. If one is to approach The Pair through this methodology they should prepare to address the reasoning behind a choice. It is because color and tone offer less inherent structure to their connections that it must be supplied by the photographer as two images of similar color do not necessarily belong together. In looking at the four forms that are used to structure The Pair, they follow a path parallel to that of the four values of constructing a series. That is to say if we are to start at the top, the most basic, and narrow our focus we can use the previous forms as a reference. Yet if we look forward to future forms the references are not as easily made. This is all to say that when developing The Pair through the use of color and tone, we can and should be thinking of our subject matter. Where two photos that use a lot of blue will not automatically work, two photos of blue restaurants in different locations offers us the direction we are looking to achieve. 

Composition becomes the third form of The Pair. While it is easy to assume that due to composition being most often associated with the image as a whole it is being used here rather to describe not subject matter but the specific shapes the objects within the frame are comprised of. In simpler terms buildings are looked at as if they are simple rectangles, the power cables become bisecting lines within the frame, and people are stripped of their features to be seen as a silhouette and nothing more. It is with these shapes that we are able to step back enough in order to see how the photo is really made, and use that as a statement for the corresponding photograph on the opposite page.

Finally, and offering the biggest challenge within The Pair is the message. This must be treated with a more cautionary approach as regardless of the connection there is a risk of muddying what message you are conveying throughout the series as a whole. That being said it is also important to note that multiple messages can and should exist within a series. These should offer the statements and supporting arguments for what you are looking to say. Because of this staying on topic is key, as it is often easy to stray and begin telling another story. 

However all if this cannot be stated without ensuring one final component. No matter how the images look and work together, they must not in any way over power one another. Once one photo begins to offer more to the viewer than the other, the less important photo serves no purpose being on the page and should be placed elsewhere in the series. 

By taking into consideration The Pair and treating it as a paragraph within your overall story we can support our story, support the other photographs, and offer personal insight as well as hints as to where we will look next. 

Part Three: The Negative 

Throughout our history we have always strived to navigate not only the natural, but man made worlds around us as well. This navigation has been put into our hands through the ability to plan ahead and transform what we see into a more sound and lawful order. That is not to say we have not always strayed from this path, but on a larger scale we can see how it is our duty to ensure we always have a sense of place.

It is alongside this sense of place that we look at the most basic building blocks. And despite the drive to compose a series the singular image cannot be ignored. Rather we must explore the most basic proportions of a photograph and what implications those carry.

To refine our focus from The Collection, to The Pair, The Negative offers the most basic view explored. And in order to view an image we must not look at the subject matter, but instead the negative space that surrounds it.

This space is often discarded as we are told through instruction to think of photographs in a binary sense. Through the subject and negative space, we are offered no middle ground and provided only ones and zeros. This poses a larger problem in that we are disallowed to focus on anything but the subject itself. This is due to the inherent implication that when asked which of the two options is more important, we will instinctively choose the subject. 

While it is important to reflect on the subject when the photo is being made, the construction of a series relies more on the connection between photos than the photo itself. Because of this, it is imperative to ignore our pre-determined notions for what constitutes a good photo, and rather look forward to what creates a good series.

Instead of a focus on the subject of a given photograph, the area around it or negative space is to be used as the primary tool for defining continuity. In a similar fashion to how The Pair is defined through the use of composition we must look at hard shapes and ideas the photo is conveying on its own without us describing them in greater detail. This can be done through many different areas of the photo, and is not confined to one specific region. A large sky holds no more value than trees in the background, what is more important is these elements aligning across any subject matter, or photographic style.

However this idea is not to be misconstrued. In looking at how The Four Values of Constructing a Series use the earlier values as structure, negative space does not preside over The Collection or The Pair. This is to say that regardless of how strong the connection may be between multiple photographs, if they cannot be aligned as a pair within the collection of images as a whole they must be discarded.

The Negative asks of us as photographers to look at images through a different workflow than what we have been taught to do. But once we can begin to work with it we will be able to find a unique order to how all images are constructed, and how this ties in with our livable spaces and the series as a whole.

Part Four: The Story

As we move closer to abstraction within the values offered here the end goals become not harder to define, but more vague in their intent. So while placing the least amount of emphasis on The Story, it is seemingly at odds with how the series is constructed. But it must be made clear that this is not a story in which we convey a tale within our images from point a to point b.

Because the ultimate goal of a photograph is to bring the viewer into the experience in which the photo was taken through the senses. Sight is provided to the viewer and photographer from the start as an inherent inclusion. Since photography is a visual medium we then must turn our focus to the other four senses and offer them within all of our images. This is the make up of The Story.

While offering sensory interactions of sound or smell pose larger questions it ultimately will fall back on the photograph itself. Through this the following ideal must be maintained: images are to not simply document a scene, but offer an invitation into the world in which the photo was created. How this is done lies more within the individual photographer than any written message offered here. Because similar to using the provided frame to remove elements from a photograph in order to refine the individual message, we are able to include key aspects that will bring viewers closer in to the photo, The Story, and the series as a whole. These key aspects surround us yet are unfortunately ignored on a regular basis when it comes to actually crafting an image. 

Because it is impossible to truly offer the sounds or smells of a given scene, we must rely on the memories of a viewer to recall what that sensory experience may actually be. Offered to all of us from the world at large, we can be familiar with how these intertwine with our memories, but perhaps more importantly how they can confuse or offer discomfort through altering our expectations of the scene. While this discomfort can be used as an advantage in certain aspects, it will more often act as a disservice to the series as a whole. 

If we are to imagine an image being put together piece by piece we can better understand what viewers expect to receive and how that will put greater emphasis on the right senses. This includes the garbage visible in street photography, plants that are local and identifiable, even if the landscape is not, and the noise that a big car makes as it is moving. Without this deeper engagement and discerning structure of the photograph itself we offer no more to the viewer than a blank canvas. There is a common argument for this, allowing the viewer to build the scene on their own. Yet as a photographer telling a story the goal is not to let the scene be dictated, rather to provide an area for the viewer to land within each image.

To offer this level of engagement completes the fourth and final value in the constructing of a series. But it must be reiterated that none of these can stand on their own, nor do they offer strengths when one is excluded. They must each be used and applied in the proper order, and once done the series will come together.