Tableau (n): A representation used to express the sudden creation of a striking or dramatic situation, a scene, which it is left to the reader to imagine. (OED)
Imaging I was redesigned to better serve NCSU’s new GD curriculum, which reinforces design as a relational system. Buttressed by my doctoral research, I built the course as a focus on the human experience of imagery, classifying images in cognitive terms (rather than, say, format). Pacing was important, with many short assignments that were not overly demanding and kept the students in motion. Assignments were matched to targeted technical proficiencies—to empower the students and address some shortcomings of previous groups—and one or more of 11 image functions—which the students were engaged with helping to define. (The image functions glossary includes narrative imagery, addressed in this assignment.)
Narrative imagery: Connects concepts through a sequence that suggests a temporally derived order. Narrative imagery invests a static page with a time signature. It should be stressed that it is the reader that actively constructs the narrative from the static page.
Tableau is one of 9 assignments in Imaging I, a sophomore-level core studio at the NCSU College of Design. Class meets Mondays and Wednesdays for 2 hours. Students at the College of Design have dedicated desks with 24-hour access.
Set up a space to be shot. Output is a single photograph, not digitally altered (beyond levels), that tells a story in the single frame. The nature of the story is determined by the student. Use any and all means (props, models, etc.) to design the shot. The photograph should include evidence that implies a temporal sequence that reaches beyond the confines of the moment in time actually captured. Meaning will be derived largely through suggestion and implication, based on the quality and nature of the set-up. Success is best judged by the reader’s ability to translate the shot—the story must be evident. (The final photograph is displayed on a basic template at 18×12″ with a title that doesn’t give away the story.)
Day 1: Assignment introduced in the last 20 minutes of class (following previous assignment’s critique). By Wednesday pick out a location or contrive a set-up and sketch out the scene, especially the story-fulfilling elements. Bring personal cameras and manuals on Wednesday. Day 2: Photography demo: inside and outside shots, light color (incandescent, fluorescent, natural), silhouetting, low light, and manual settings (white balance, shutter speed, and aperture). This day is technically inclined. Desk crits and questions as time permits. Day 3: Group crit.
As with other assignments in the course, exploration that generates useful discussion is highly valued. Simply put:
In line with my conceptualization of Imaging I, students are not permitted to present their own work. Instead, their classmates engage in interpretation on the spot, so that each designer might learn how his or her Tableau actually works, in practice. The designer writes the intended story embedded in the photograph on the back of the print-out in pencil. This is checked against the story as constructed by the group. This critique method puts the emphasis on how the image works, as the group tells the designer (not the other way around!).
This quick assignment is an exercise in image-making that promotes discussion. Furthermore, it introduces the students to a particular kind of authorship too rarely exhibited by designers. The utilization of set photography as modeled here seems, at least, to have had an impact on how the students go about making images.