Assignment 2: Combinations and Sequencing

My tutor Jayne asked me to try different combinations of my final 5 and think about the overall visual impact:

“The thing that strikes me most about Abu, from your pictures, is the strength and quality of his gaze; his watchfulness. For me, this is the essence of the portrait here, rather than the chickens or the mirror which, although lovely pictures in themselves, are more from a “day in the life” kind of photo-story – which this is not (as it would call for many more images, for one thing). For me, shots 1, 3, 4, 6 and 9 make quite a powerful set as together they describe Abu’s intense (characteristic?) watchfulness. The sequence is also important – try different combinations of your final 5 (whatever decision you come to) and think about the overall visual impact”.

I had a hard time trying to figure out how to put the photos in sequence.  Since the photos are not a story; why would the sequence be important and in what way one image will lead to the next??  I searched online but mostly what I found was about photos that tell a story so I had to email my tutor for more information and clarification and Jayne replied:

“What would the context be (hypothetically) for your images? Imagine them on a gallery wall for instance; which picture should come first and why? (Usually the first and last images should be as strong as possible.)

How do the images sit together? What is the visual ‘rhythm’? The best way to try different sequences is to make some small work prints and play around with the order until you find the one that seems to work best. You’ll soon see that certain combinations just work better than others; some may jar completely.

Alec Soth talks a little bit about sequencing his work Sleeping by the Mississippi, here.

Just give it some thought and observe the nuances in each possible version. Don’t worry too much! It’s just something worth bearing in mind at this stage”.

In Sleeping by the Mississippi, Alec Soth took pictures of different things that he found wandering around.  To him the process of taking pictures is like a performance where a picture is a document of that performance.  Since his work is more lyrical than documentary; it is hard for his photos to tell a story in the same way other photographs do when put into groups or narrative sequence.  Soth prefers the viewer consider his work in Sleeping by the Mississippi as a unified whole like a novel or a dream where he provides the viewer with detailed fragments and clues and the viewer makes something out of it to tell the story.  He inspires their curiosity.

Soth’s structure in sequencing is based on poetry following the steps of Robert Frank where the sequence functions as a rhythm.  In The Americans by Robert Frank, each photograph in the series interact with the previous one.  Nothing is random about the sequence of the photographs, all are grouped and chosen carefully maintaining visual links between them just like words in poems.

The sequence in The Americans was inspired by his own book “Black White and Things” sequencing which was focused on good and bad moments of life.  Here is what “Looking In” says about how Frank sequenced the book and built up a sense of rhythm:

“Compounding the sequence’s impact, tone, and meaning, frank for the first time placed most of the photographs opposite blank pages, allowing an almost stately progression of image after image to build up in the reader’s mind. Yet, as readers look through the book, they quickly discover that they must move both forward and backward through it, remembering what they have seen before and knowing what will come next. Thus, form and content become interdependent, and meaning is established as much by the movement between the photographs as by the photographs themselves.”

The movement and pauses in between the pages of his book all emphasized the meaning of his photographs.  Still Frank likes to leave some things unsaid:

“I want my viewers to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice”.

Eric Kim on his blog about The Americans by Frank Robert advises to give importance to the sequencing not just the images themselves and to try to create a rhythm to the images in which certain photos next to one another can be similar or dissimilar.  He advise to sequence the photos in which they flow well.

Sequencing photographs is making sure the final group of pictures and the way they are presented are successful in pointing out the story or feeling or idea of the whole series.  The way everything comes together at the end is the overall narrative.

Ingrid Sundberg writes: “Herein lies the truth of narrative, it can be a story but it does not have to be. A narrative is about story, and creates connections to story and storytelling but does not in and of itself have to be a story.”

In short, narrative is an important tool for the outcome but it’s not the outcome itself.  When two photographs are sequenced; there is a connection or dialogue between them based on either the contents, individual forms or combination of both.  When pictures are seen together; the viewer will be making a connection out of them as every photo suggests something and whether that something is clear or not; the viewer will still compare.  Therefore, the photographer’s job when sequencing is making sure the right connection is being made.  Connections can be clear such as when the first photo is of a mother and the second one is of her daughter.  It can also be vague such as when both photos capture the feeling of joy or sadness or whatever else.

It is all about conveying the general feeling or idea that the photographer wants out of the sequenced photographs.

Going back to “Abu Mohammed” portraits; I printed out the photographs and tried different combinations:

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Final Five Portraits and Sequence (from left to right):


In every combination; I kept the strongest portrait at the end.  I started and ended with a portrait that to me says who Abu Mohammed is and gives the viewer an idea of his character.  The three portraits in between the two were sequenced according to his gaze and what I felt would add to his personality.  There seems to be a connection and rhythm between the three in the gaze and content that would give clues to the viewer about my subject.  The way Abu Mohammed looks into the lens in the last portrait; makes it hard not to look back at him which gives the shot a quite powerful look.


Bibliography / References:

Aaron Schuman (2004).  The Mississippi:  An Interview with Alec Soth [online].  Aaron Schuman Home.  Available from:  [Accessed 11 December, 2016].

Eric Kim.  Robert Frank’s “The Americans”: Timeless Lessons Street Photographers Can Learn [online]. Eric Kim. Available from: [Accessed 11 December, 2016].

Jno Cook (1986).  Robert Frank: Dissecting the American Image [online].  Exposure Magazine.  Available from:  [Accessed 11 December, 2016].

Jörg M. Colberg (2016).  Photography and Narrative (part 1) [online].  Conscientious Photo Magazine.  Available from: [Accessed 11 December, 2016].

Jörg M. Colberg (2016). Photography and Narrative (part 2) [online]. Conscientious Photo Magazine. Available from: [Accessed 11 December, 2016].




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