#1073. Storytelling Challenge Results – Merry Christmas

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Dec 25

All good things come to an end, this will be our final challenge. But it’s been a good one, and things to come should be just as interesting and even more engaging!

Storytelling gets a bad rap. Ask any film editor and they’ll tell you filmmaking is manipulation. Politicians wrap up facts and intentions in a hefty dose of highly subjective worldview and narrative. Good teachers understand that the brains of their students react far more strongly to stories than to the fact they encapsulate. Ironically, in France our words for history and story are one and the same, but my recollection of history classes is add odds with this semantic oneness: had those classes been any more boring, it’s possible our neurons would have dissolved into smush 😉

Watch an Apple Keynote and it’s not about the performance of the new machines but how it was achieved and what it enables. Competitors who didn’t get the memo make 90% less money from the same amount of work. Stories (and Trust) make the world go round. In fact Galileo almost lost his head because his spinning Earth conflicted with the official stories of the time. What do you do before going to bed? Browse spreadsheets or read novels (or watch movies)? What would you rather do when you wake up?

What happens when you hear about an incident? “Wait until I tell …” is what. We’re born storytellers. Our brains construct neural networds to store facts and memories. But it’s the tension between an existing mental state and new information that makes it interesting to us. And stories are simply a series of steps building and releasing tension to stimulate our reward system. AI is nowhere near emulating a human brain because that reward system isn’t yet well replicated in silicon.

Storytelling matters. The story around this photograph make it more vivid for me:

During our first confinement, we were all allowed one hour’s walk every day, within a 1km range from our respective residences. Given the distance of my house to the village and the few roads in between the two, staying withing that space-time bubble would have driven me up the bend. It did. So I eventually smuggled into the village, doubling the allowed distance from base, like a real rebel, to this nice riverside walk often featured in lens tests on this blog. There and then, I was astonished to discover what nature can do when you leave it alone, even in an urban setting. In front of me was a scene from an early Turner. The village ‘gardeners’, also confined, hadn’t been let loose with their angry machines to shread everything green to the ground. The result was tall bushes where bare soil usually serves as a repository for barker eggs. Wild flowers everywhere and a pungent scent that’s usually the privilege of botanical gardens or wide open bushland. Throw in an apple and a nude cutie and it would have been biblical. Sssssssplendid.

I remember this fondly, now that we are living our second lockdown episode in what promises to stage more seasons and turns of events than NCIS (Season 2: The Vaccine.). And I hope the story connects you to the photograph, and to me, more strongly than the image would by itself.

So that was the challenge. Send in images, any topic, along with a related personal story. About how and when you made it. Or who with. Or why. Or what it represents to you. Or about that crispy anecdote about the gear you used to make it. Or about … anything interesting really. Anything to strengthen the connection between the viewer and the photographs.

Thank you to those of you who responded. Thank you to those who will comment (please do, in the spirit of story). And



Paul Barclay

The ironic thing about that image is I got to watch it develop, and hope against hope that it would happen.

While I was setting up, I noticed three women walking around my vicinity. After a little observation it became apparent that the women were a Mother, Daughter, and a photographer, and they were wandering the area using various locations to make senior portraits of the daughter. They walked up the stairs to the porch and made a few images and left. While they were approaching the porch I was quietly hoping that the daughter would be close to the rail for at least one image, and I was rewarded. What is not visible in this image is, the young lady is holding a violin. She played the violin for a few images, but she was in a different location on the porch.


Philippe Berend

The challenge, as I understand it, to take one picture which, combined with words, tells a story.

The story is one of natural collage, of assembling the dissembling. With a fast car one expects, a clear road, a glamorous environment, travel and distance, speed and clamor and adrenalin. Yet nature gives this image the forlorn trees and heavy skies of winter as they bear down on the purposeful curves of the metal rocket, saying, you can run, but you can’t escape us. You are ours. And man is there, to further freeze the moment, imprisoning the car forever.


Lani Edward

I am always reluctant in explaining what the story is in my images and would, most of the time, even refrain from giving them a title. All in good faith that the viewer would use his/her own imagination and create their own narrative, without me leading them down the garden path. I am optimistic that there is enough of an atmosphere in these images for the intent to come across, but that the message or story, is spiced with the observer’s own emotions, experiences and character.


Pascal Jappy

How do you photograph the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Old Man of Storr in a personal way? How does your photograph set you apart from the millions of others that predate it? This is particularly problematic with this iconic scene on the isle of Skye. At least, with the other two tourist hotspots, photographing the actual thing without your pouty face superimposed is enough to eliminate 98% of the competition. Here, though, not only is there competition from real photographers but by some of the world’s very, very best landscape specialists, who all seem to consider the place a trophy shot opportunity. And for a reason. It is sublime.

Those thoughts were at the back of my mind as we clibmed the surprisingly steep hill to the foot of the rock formation, among hikers, photographers, painters and a swarm of drones that would have justified clay drone shooting antics. It wasn’t early morning or late evening, because … well, family holiday. There were people around. There were exciting birds, so my attention was divided.

The answer to this enigma came to me as all answers to other enigmas come to me : by walking. I walked, and walked, and soaked up the place, the soft grass, the dark, rugged rocks, the tiring climb, the extraordinary surroundings. Then this patch of snow appeared and, with it, the evidence of a shot. It happened like a soap bubble pops. One second, lost in contemplation, panting for survival. The next, eye at the viewfinder, composing. There are better shots out there, but this one is truly mine. It has my signature, it has everything I like in a photograph. Once again, walking had triumphed of all ills 🙂


Pascal Ravach

Saigon, the street in front of our former building.

During my daily walk around, I sometimes don’t take my “serious” gear… that day I just had my old iPhone.

The girl is the daughter of the couple making our daily fresh coconut juice.
The dog had found a perfect umbrella 🙂
Loved the tenderness… and the color dialogue between her dress and the bike…

Vietnam, as the whole Asian South-East, is a place where an old bloke taking a photo of a little girl raises wonderful smiles, never a bad look at you like in so many Western places today… such a warm feeling.


Nancee Rostad

After enduring the election news for as long as I could bear, I decided to head to my favorite getaway on the Oregon coast. Promising my husband that I would not watch the election returns, I instead spent my time enjoying the beach and the crashing waves as the anxiety drained from my body. Each morning I headed to the nearby Coquille River which often presents a mirror-like surface early in the day, if the wind hasn’t picked up. I was lucky to catch it in this state three times, each with a different quality of light reflecting on the surface. One of those mornings I was lining up a shot of two trees which had become lodged into the river bottom at such an angle as to appear to be a V shape when the light was right. Everything was going well, a seagull had perched on the left-hand tree and as I pressed the shutter a group of small birds, twittering loudly, flew low and right behind the trees. Not what I was going for, but charming nonetheless. Most of the birds flew on, but some decided to alight for a time. They broke up my quiet moment, but they added immeasurably to my enjoyment and well-being.


Ian Varkevisser

Pelican 22 is one of the last known still flying Avro Shackeltons. Based at the Ysterplaat Air Force museum she is trotted out on saturdays to display her prowess. On the occasion I visited the museum she was towed out onto the apron some 20m from a red brick wall and all 4 engines duly fired up for the eagerly awaiting crowd. Chocks secured , brakes on , and engines warmed up the pilot put pedal to the metal and revved up all 4 engines to around max. Sadly for the base commander this time the old girl proved to much for the aging wall. This image was taken at the instant the wall came tumbling down.

SAS Johanna van der Merwe was one of three Daphne-class submarines acquired from France during 1970 to 1972, which became the first submarines to serve in the South African Navy. She was 58m long and had a complement of six officers and 45 senior and junior ratings. Fitted with 12x550mm torpedo tubes, she could also carry sea mines.

Laid down at Dubigeon-Normandy shipyard in Nanteson on 24 April 1969, she was launched on 21 July 1970. She completed her workup training in the Mediterranean, operating out of Toulon, before sailing for home on 4 May 1972.

In 1975, SAS Johanna van der Merwe was deployed into Angolan waters under Operation YSKAS to prepare for evacuation of personnel. During the so-called Border War, she took part in some ten clandestine special operations.

With the acquisition of the new Type 209 submarines for the SA Navy, she was finally paid off on 23 November 2003. For many years thereafter, she served as a floating museum in the naval dockyard in Simonstown. Sadly no longer.

This HDR composite shows the intricacies of the forward torpedo compartment that faced submariners, who were commonly known as bubbleheads. This area also served as sleeping quarters for up to 10 people with hammocks strung between torpedo tubes.

The image was taken during a private tour of the submarine given by a retired admiral and former commander of this submarine.

Dallas Thomas

“Windows are for letting in light, air and looking out otherwise why would we have them”


Thank you every one 🙂


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  • What a splendid collection of images and a tribute to the art of visual storytelling. Bravo!

  • PaulB says:


    The challenge is a success. The stories enhance the images beyond what they show.


  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    A merry christmas and prosperous new year to all

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Nice work everyone! I love that the accompanying stories carry the same weight as the images and actually bring the viewer closer in. Merry Christmas, and what will hopefully be a happier New Year!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Your dismissal of history as boring is appalling. You must have been taught the wrong stuff. History is fascinating.
    Example – one of the English kings – an Edward, I’m pretty sure, although I no longer remember which one – is generally described in English history books as having met “a foul and most hideous death”. But no details.
    On the other hand – see? even history books have two, at least! – French history books fill in the blanks. It seems that Eddy – like his 20th century counterpart, Eddy no. 7 – was a “naughty little boy”. It seems that his wife was similar – but owing to a difference in their respective chromosomes, she was a “naughty little girl”. She was having it off with her (male) courtiers. And she took exception to the fact that Eddy was, too. Further details of which of the (male) courtiers provided such services to which of them – Eddy or his wife – are sketchy. However, she got fed up and arranged for one of her “boys” to “do him in”. And the “foul and most hideous death” that Eddy succumbed to was an attempt to “make the punishment fit the crime” – the courtier in question obliged his mistress and finished off the king, by ramming a red hot poker up his ass.
    I suspect they must have censored your books, Pascal. I can’t see any way of treating stories like that as “boring”.
    And history is full of it.

    Never mind. That’s an excursion into the past – yours, mine and the rest of the world’s – and has little or nothing to do with Dear Susan.

    I’m quite sure you posted the first shot simply to make me jealous – and you know perfectly well that I cannot possibly afford to buy a Hassy, so I can’t compete with you.

    Love the rest of the shots, too – I did try passing my thoughts back to you all, but it would have made this post ridiculously long. Thanks to each and every one of you, for brightening up my day.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, but you see, you remember the story, not the names or details. History can be made fascinating, when supported by story. When it is merely a list of putric facts, who cares?

      My reaction against history is probably also motivated by the fact that France is deeply stuck in the past. We will spend a billion euros to repair a church roof as it was before the fire, to the last nail, rather than give new artists a chance to shine.

      I can only imagine what our museums would look like now if the Medici and other patrons had had the same attitute as ours. “Shut up, Mr DaVinci. Piss off Mr Raphael. We have enough Giottos to restore to take interest in your stuff”.

      Have a great end of 2020, I hope you are enjoying the weather my Perth relatives have been telling me about recently. Ugh. Jealous, me?

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    Well, these photos clearly demonstrate that no challenge is too much for this group of photographers. Extraordinary photos! I do not want to even try to pick favorites from this range of photos–such a range of emotional and technical imagery. Well done, all! Claude

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