Visual storytelling is at the front line of the content marketing battleground. Product Director and Creative Strategist at Opposite Days, Melissa McVeigh discusses why creating new narratives is so important.
"You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved." - Ansel Adams
Everyone is a photographer, videographer, storyteller. From the 14-year-old YouTube superstars to big and not so big brands, journalists to people everywhere in war zones, on family holidays and everything in between, we all take images to tell our stories. Life’s narrative has been amplified through relentless capturing of those defining moments and sharing it for the world to see.
It doesn’t matter if you are an individual or a big brand, at a more personal and emotive level, we use visual storytelling to communicate and share how we feel or what we believe in. We take photographs to create memories, to construct and represent ourselves, to create connections and conversation, to get social feedback. To imagine ourselves as someone else or somewhere else or to change people’s perceptions of us.
So I sometimes ponder in the midst of all this creating, do we wonder or even consider how people might interpret, reflect and respond to the images we create and share?
Images are pervasive and creep into every waking moment. A so-so visual will be consumed and discarded as quickly as it takes to swipe left, judged, interpreted and the viewer simply moves on.
Yet, great and powerful visuals will leave space for thought, dialogue, discussion & ideas. We pause, listen and reflect the meaning of a powerful image, our minds still yearning for something a little more engaging than instant distraction.
We demand better images because we can now take them ourselves. So brands need to pay attention. We need to place the same value and put as much effort into the imagery as our customers already create. Curation can’t be an afterthought.
As curators of visual stories it is our responsibility to consider not only what is outside the frame but also what is inside. What is the most interesting and rewarding is selecting or commissioning images that leave just enough of a story to encourage the viewer to pause and reflect and add a little bit of their own story.
Images consist of layers of meaning such as the photographer’s intent and idea when they took the image. The art director or curator choosing one image over another to illustrate a story and finally the viewer who not only translates the context which they see the image but layer their own meaning over the top.
To make this a little bit more real, have you ever stared at an image and wondered what the story behind the characters behind the frame might be? So I am going to talk about my personal connection to the following images below as well the memories evoked by my colleague Jane Austin (Head of UX at the Telegraph).
At a recent event, I curated a series of images for speakers to share their thoughts and memories on. These images were sight unseen and aimed to show the power of transitional and improvising storytelling. I had a story to share but so did the viewer when they observed the images.
Melissa's view of this picture:
During the London Olympics my son was diagnosed with pneumonia and spent ten days in hospital attached to an oxygen tank. He had been misdiagnosed by our local GP twice and when we took him to emergency he was grey and unable to breathe. He was admitted immediately. At that moment I both loved and hated the NHS. The hospital was incredible, amazing patient care and treated him back to good health. I am still disappointed by our local GP for telling us it was a cold and distrust them still today.
And on a lighter note, I remember watching the first ten days next to his hospital bed as the British stormed to win medal after medal and Australia languished low in the tally. Which, for an Australian, can be quite hard.
Jane’s view of this picture:
In my 20’s I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease which is a horrible, painful and embarrassing disease and I almost died a couple of times and then this new medicine came along and I was given my life back.
It's taught me to live every second after spending day-after-day in a hospital bed.
At New Year I decided not to have New Year's Resolutions but to instead have New Year's Whims, so I've been learning Arabic and I've been to the Northern Lights and I'm going to Burning Man and other festivals for the first time this year.
Every second is precious.
Melissa’s view of this picture:
This image makes me proud to grow old. I can’t tell the age of this women but she is not the eternally young, 20-something blonde hair girl we see all the time as the symbol of femininity or sexuality. She is mature but not old, she is comfortable in her own skin and ready to wear whatever she likes, wherever she likes and have fun regardless of what everyone says.
Jane’s view of this picture:
This image makes me think of make-up, the mask. I didn't wear make up until I was 25, I don't know if it was because as a feminist I felt I shouldn't wear make up, it would make me look less serious. Now when I look back at myself pre-25 I realize I was a scruffy mess.
It covered a lack of confidence, now as I get older it's different, again it's about confidence but it's a different kind of confidence from when I was younger.
Final word from Melissa:
In the end it is simple, creating images is more than the original idea, it morphs and reflects the feelings and attitudes of the people who curate and then view them. Our role as producers and curators of images is to leave just enough visual headspace so a viewer can create a dialogue and discussion. Creating new narratives and challenging old ones so that we all observe and challenge the world we live in.
Mel is partner and creative strategist at Opposite Days, a London based digital consultancy helping companies create great customer experiences and navigating digital transformation. She is also one of the directors of SheSays - the UK's leading network for women in creative and media industry.