Write A Song With A Camera


by Chris Fritchie

I’ve always loved the art of song writing. The problem is I can’t sing, and I’m a terrible guitar player. That’s never stopped me from having a story to tell. Just ask my wife and kids. At times, all they want me to do is shut up. So how could I tell a story if I can’t sing or write or no one wants to listen? Simple. I have a camera.

During my first 10 years as a professional photographer, I photographed editorial content. The goal was to capture images that inspired the reader to read the story. Over the years, I’ve had over 125 cover images and thousands of published images. When I look back at my best images, they were the ones where you didn’t even need to read the story. You knew what it was about.

My biggest inspiration for creating images has always been Norman Rockwell, a sheer genius at telling a story with art. Seriously, we all get inspired from many different things. It could be life experiences, a TV show, a movie, a funny story from a friend, a conversation with your spouse or a simple discussion you overheard from someone. So, one of the things I love the most is the absolute freedom I have when my mind takes a journey down an unknown path.

When I fell in love with photography it was musicians I wanted to photograph. Not portraits but live performances. My first few years of shooting was strictly shooting live performances in North Texas. The passion, honesty and story telling these musicians put out in every performance had me mesmerized. The images I chose to share from shooting their performance allowed me… yes, me, to tell the story of the performance that night, not them. I had complete control to show the excitement, the passion, the energy of the story they were providing to the audiences.
When I get an idea for a story, the first thing I usually do is make a note. Songwriters have historically kept a “little black book” with them at all times.  We have the same thing, it’s a smart phone. It’s simple to do a quick voice recording or type in a note what the inspiration is so you don’t forget it.  I’ve grabbed my phone at 3:00 am to write something down so I don’t forget it.  I may never follow up on that idea or inspiration but it allows my mind to run wild.

The key elements in story telling are:
Setting – Where the story takes place, not just the physical location, but the time it’s set in. Sometimes it is specified and other times there are clues.

Characters – The people, animals, or even inanimate objects who play a role in the story. Their job is to push the story’s plot forward.

Plot – What happens in the story. It includes the series of events that unfold. Its elements are generally centered on a timeline beginning with a problem and ends with the resolution.

Conflict – It’s the turning point where everything kicks off. The conflict is the engine and, without it, there is no story.

Theme – The main idea of the story. It’s the reason you bothered to spend hours grafting away on this piece of work, to the detriment of sleep, relationships, or whatever.

Narrative Arc – The universal to both fiction and nonfiction refers to the structure and shape of the story. It is made up of the events in the story… the sequence of occurrences in the plot… and determines the peaks and plateaus that set the pace.

For me, I try and have layers of depth.  I also hope the viewer can place themselves inside the story on some level. The true success of telling a story with a song or image is when it can relate to anyone…when they can visualize themselves in the story.

“What Do You Bring To The Table,” in my mind, is my greatest story telling image I’ve created.  It manages to hit all six elements.

The idea was conceived by an idea my wife, Lori, actually inspired. I don’t remember the song we were listening to but I do recall it talked about how our current relationship was shaped by those things we carry around with us, not just physically, but emotionally as well. It was important to me to create an image where the viewer could keep discovering layers and layers of story.

In this image, you can see so many details. I knew it would be difficult to judge, because the judges only see the images for a minute. So, let’s look at the story.

The couple is on a date and the name of the wine bar is “One More Round.” This reference has nothing to do with alcohol but the willingness of the couple to try a relationship one more time. The bistro is located in “Venus, Texas.” Venus is the God of Love. I wanted the feel of isolation, as if they were the only ones in the world. But they clearly weren’t, as you can see reflections of others in the windows. Do those people represent past relationships? You decide!

You may notice the woman has a wedding dress and veil. But did you notice they are two different colors? This represents more than one marriage in her past. The shopping bags suggests she clearly loves extravagance. There are also wine bottles representing her love of wine and finer things. Looking closely, you will see pill bottles. This might suggest she has health issues. Take a close look at the scale on her side. On one side is cash and the other are bills. The bills weigh more than the cash, representing debt. By the way, did you notice the “Bernie” bumper sticker?

Now let’s take a look at him. His scale shows few bills and lots of cash. This represents wealth. The open bottle of Jack Daniel’s and the beer can on the floor suggests that he might have a drinking problem. Also, there are socks and jeans lying around showing he’s not very neat. The poker chips give the impression that he enjoys a bit of gambling and he is clearly a sports buff. You may also notice the unorganized pill bottles and syringe. This represents a history with drug use. He also has a rifle and a “Trump” bumper sticker. The boxing gloves also represent a fighter. You can decide if he has a history of abuse or he is someone who doesn’t give up.

Keep your phone handy and look for inspiration everywhere!

“What Do You Bring To The Table” was a 2021 Loan Image.  Chris and Lori run Chris Fritchie Studios in McKinney, Texas. Chris recently received 2nd place in Creative Open in the PPA Grand Imaging Awards for “Who is the Fairest of Them All.”