Power of the Visual Narrative

Cogitations31 August 2018

Why I’ve shifted my focus onto longer form visual narratives.

When Instagram launched in 2010, with its restrictive 1:1 crop and limited range of hipster filters, the utility of the app was so unclear to me that I never really got around to using it until a year later.


Even then, what I saw was what I uploaded. The time buffer between real life and upload was minimal, there was no lengthy creative process much less a business strategy, and there was definitely no hashtag ad. But alas, platforms need to change in order to accomodate evolved needs. Fast forward a couple of years, Instagram made me a selected user, meaning that yours truly popped up as a recommendation for people to follow. Although I’m still not precisely sure how this worked and how frequently I appeared as a recommendation, my viewership was boosted beyond the ten thousand range.


Then I started to feel the pressure — not necessarily from anyone else but myself. I had suddenly, and very much inadvertently, amassed an audience that anticipated a consistent flow of content from me. And like I said, I had no strategy. Up until that point, my photographs were daily visual recounts of life in law school reduced to square crops. I frequently oscillated between my self-inflicted paranoia of not being able to keep up with other content creators and the concurrent self-affirmation that I was a selected user because my content was worth looking at.


Suddenly, everyone not only had a brand but became their brand. These days, it’s almost unquestionable that in order to succeed as a creative within the digital space, you do need some form of branding or strategy behind your work to stay above the noise. But as a disorientated teen doing a few too many hundreds of pages of law readings to conjure up new content, I didn’t have time to formulate an original identity to assume.


After dealing with this dilemma for a few years — between accepting and rejecting sponsorship deals, viewing myself as a business and creating a cohesive feed — I’ve come to realise the importance of the visual narrative. My interest in photography has always stemmed from my need to diarise my life. To that end, storytelling has always been my brand.

As such, in moving forward from what felt like perpetual dissatisfaction with what I was doing creatively, I’ve started to focus more on longer form visual content. By way of rolling out these themed series, I started with photographing corners of my home to which I had become accustomed. My home holds so much symbolic significance for me — it was where I started toying with my first DSLR, where I experimented with self-portraiture for the 365 day Flickr challenge, where I started shooting on film and where I brainstormed ideas for my first blog post. With this in mind, it felt right that my reconsidered approach to content creation started there.


Frankly, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve felt such creative fulfilment in uploading imagery on social media. I’ve previously touched on my bewilderment with the proliferation of content in the online space, and I have babbled on about the tensions between true creativity and engagement tactics in response to social media algorithms, but seeing all of the positive response to my story-oriented images as of late has been nothing short of reassuring. Over the years, I’ve consumed countless panel videos about The Rise of Social Media and How to Partner with a Brand, but there is truly nothing more rewarding than engagement that is not based on numbers on an app, but genuine, heartfelt responses to my photographs. That’s something you can’t measure with analytics.


It’s also been such an interesting process to explore the ways in which my different creative interests intersect. In light of the increased commercialisation of visual content, I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of how enthused I used to be with diarising my life through photography. It’s also been extremely revitalising for me to dip in and out of different art mediums — like painting (I’m currently working on an oil-on-canvas, which takes me back to 12th grade when I worked in the art studio all throughout recess, lunch, study breaks and after school) and music (which has always been a significant part of my life, from being in the choir, playing the violin and now teaching myself the guitar).


You can view my themed visual series on Instagram here.