Since at least the 1970s there have been a number of fine books on photographic story telling and essays by noted photographers, magazine and book publishers such as Time-Life and National Geographic, how-to authors, and others with many emphases, ranging from theoretical, to how a publisher manages the whole program, to how one photographer operates. Most are long out of print; some are classics and highly collectible. Freeman's "The Photographer's Story" is the latest contribution on this subject, but is more comprehensive, thorough, and up-to-date than others I am familiar with.
Freeman is uniquely qualified to write this book for two main reasons. Firstly, he has been walking the walk since the 1970s doing stories, essays, photographic picture story books, and how-to books in such numbers as makes keeping track no longer useful. He's done so many stories for "Smithsonian" magazine that I'm not sure he still keeps count. But the uniqueness of his qualification is, IMHO (not really H), his ability to articulate his mind in objective, analytical ways on subjects most artists are shy to, refuse to, or cannot address in a concrete fashion. Most artists of any stripe are experts at handwaving and telling about their "feelings," but couldn't say why an image works in an objective sense if their lives depended on it. Freeman is comfortable in making that leap into those unpopular domains.
Better than almost anyone else, he can take a process, define its characteristics and components, talk about how they work to achieve the goal, and how to get there. He is especially clever at inventing schematic representations of aspects of a process that give the reader not just his words and photos, but visual information on the interactions of the process components among themselves and through time to its completion.
So a bit about this book, the organization of which is straight forward. A major theme running through the book is that the possibilities and demands for storytelling with photographs are changing with almost every new electronic medium hitting the markets. Another is that throughout the book he emphasizes the roles of all players and stake holders in the entire process, as seldom is a project a photographer-centric solo effort. His ease within this multi-polar environment is evident in his respect for their roles in handling his own work.
The first section is "The Photo Essay," wherein he introduces and breaks down the "classic narrative" structure of a story and also introduces his first visual schematic, which graphs a model of the rise and fall of tensions through the flow of the story. He uses two of his own stories to illustrate the general idea in one case, and to introduce a schematic method to show the rhythm and pace of the flow of image content, colorfulness, scale of the scene (closeup versus medium and long shots), and the visual weight (in this case, of human faces). He uses this approach several times throughout the book in explaining and illustrating his argument. I have a concern that sometimes - in particular, the schematic for changes in colorfulness - the model needs a bit more explanation for the reader to be certain of understanding what one is seeing, or supposed to see.
In the first section, he also delves into the historical archives to show from where his story originates. He does a superb job of analyzing the all-time classic and great essay by W. Eugene Smith for Life magazine, "The Country Doctor." I've not seen it done from so many points of view, supported by his schematics to separate visual aspects of the images and layouts from the content of those images. He could make a whole book of this type of analysis on other essays and stories.
The second section, "Planning & Shooting," covers a breakout of the different types of photo stories and then looks at the planning required of all participants in the story, from the various editors to participants in the activities, to supporting the shooting itself, to the various uses after shooting. Imagining a shoot without adequate planning is a waste of everyone's time and resources.
The third and last section, "Edit & Show," is the meatiest, and technical. He covers the types and reasons for the various edits, aspects of space-time in the layout, and the differences between print and the various internet and visual media in how a story can be advantageously presented. While tablets, such as the iPad, are the latest influence on changing the presentation of stories, they certainly will not be the last.
This book is arguably the finest current look at its subject. But in another dimension, it is also the fourth of a series starting with "The Photographer's Eye," followed by "_ Mind" and "_ Vision." These together comprise the only extant effort to present the most difficult aspects of the photographic enterprise at an intellectual level. As a foursome, they deserve to be presented as a boxed set. Every university level photography program should require that boxed set. Writing on the arts does not get better than what Freeman has given us.