5 Rules of Nonfiction Storytelling - David Lloyd and Angela Blakely


Social documentary photographers David Lloyd and Angela Blakely, who have more than 20 years’ experience exploring topics of conflict and personal crises through visual storytelling, recently presented a non-fiction storytelling masterclass CameraPro’s Visual Storytelling Festival.


They shared the process by which they tell stories, shared their own powerful images – both collaborative and individual projects they’ve worked on in Australia and overseas – and offered some non-fiction storytelling rules to follow.


Here’s a glimpse at what David had to say on the day, including his 5 hard rules of nonfiction storytelling:


“All the time you're telling stories.”


“Storytelling is everything. It's not a secondary thing. It's not something you do as a past-time. It's the way we put meaning to our lives – it is who we are.”


“The most important thing about storytelling is that the non-fictional side of storytelling does the following: it connects to the two worlds we live in. The objective world, the descriptive one that we see with our senses, and the imaginative world, the one that we qualify with.”


“But non-fictional story telling relies on a number of rules and there are generally 5 hard rules to do that:”


  1. The phenomenon must exist irrespective of the camera.


“First of all, as visual storytellers, the phenomena that we photograph must exist irrespective of our presence. So it's got to exist whether we were going to be there or not. If something is played up for the camera, we would argue that is fictional storytelling not non-fiction story telling.”


  1. The photographer must eyewitness those events


“We could make up something based on what we know but that's fictional story telling – we haven't eyewitnessed it. The photographer – and all the documentists – must eyewitness those events.”


  1. You must capture the image at the time of eyewitnessing it


“The third rule of non-fiction story telling is that you must capture the image at the time of eyewitnessing it. You must be honest. Whatever I bring out, I must bring it in terms of my understanding. That’s the integrity of documentary practice.”


  1. It must always be understood as an interpretive meeting


“A camera just takes a part of the conversation – it doesn't take the whole conversation, it doesn’t take what's outside of that conversation and it doesn't contextualize it in the day before and the day after, normally. It's an interpretation… but it's not ‘constructed’ in that typical sense.”


  1. When you are there you represent the audience…


“Documentary practice done well actually links to our human right to know. Documentary practice done badly or in fakery is a human rights abuse should we make decisions made on false information.”