3 Important Things in Telling a Story


When Telling a Story, Intercession, Photography and Writing all Play a Part in Getting the Story Out. 

Intercession |ˌɪntəˈsɛʃ(ə)n| the Action of Intervening on Behalf of Another: he only escaped ruin by the intercession of his peers with the king. The action of doing something on behalf of another: prayers of intercession.

Photograph |ˈfəʊtəɡrɑːf| A Picture Made Using a Camera, in which an image of what is focused on to light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by Chemical Treatment, and or digital process: A photograph of what is in front of you.

Writer |ˈrʌɪtə| A Person Who has Written Something or who Writes in a Particular Way: the writer of the article. a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a vocation or occupation: she was a prolific writer | he a writer of short stories.

I got into photography when I saw how I could put some light on some of what I saw around me in the city of Johannesburg in the 1990s. I am a photographer because through it I can tell something of what is around me, I am not a camera or photographic technophile. When I saw how I could go into a situation with a small camera and come away with tangible aspects of what was there I was officially hooked. As a photographer, I don’t feel that there is such a thing as a boring situation but there is such a thing as a boring story told.

I then started to write for myself when I needed extended captions and some short-form writing to go with the pictures I was making. Robin Comley said to me one day that in the perfect world our pictures would talk for themselves, we agreed in the end that writing could add some context but we never should double-speak to the viewer as it were. The picture and the text can work alongside each other but never repeat each other as a writer and a photographer work together on a joint job. As a writer, I am picture strong, I can get the feel of what I want in the text. I love working with a good editor can get that feeling all in line alongside my images.

After many years in this craft and after many years of hardship for many photographers in getting stories published in a ‘visual’ world, I have given much thought to what I might actually be in all this…

I am the go-between, the messenger, a soother and sometimes the grit in a shoe. The intercessor speaks for the other, the intercessor speaks to another too. The intercessor goes in between for two parties or viewpoints. Sometimes my work can be soothing like an applied balm, and at other times these perceptions can be uncomfortable truths that also need some of the light of the day.

Like any craftsman, it is not enough to just make nice chairs, for example. The craftsman has to keep a note of how his ‘chairs’ are fitting into the rooms and doing all the jobs that they were intended to do. As a photog, I have to keep a firm hold on my position-at-work as I frame images and link words for others to view and read.

If you like what you have seen and read here, you can always buy me a $3.00 coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/JohnRobinson or PayPal.Me/jrphotographer




Xenophobia On The Streets of Durban

Crowded in between a landlord and fear of Xenophobia in the streets of South Africa.

Crowded in Between a Landlord And Fear of Xenophobia in the Streets of South Africa. Photo John Robinson

The Madiengua family lives in an overcrowded flat in the Point area of Durban, South Africa or “Little Nigeria” as it is locally known.

This family lives with their personal belongings packed in plastic bags in case of immediate eviction by the landlord of their building in the Point area of Durban, South Africa, Paty Madiengua stands with his wife Yvette and 4 children L to R Ephraim (15), Sabrina (14), Geffrey (10) and Genesis (2) in the kitchen of their flat ready be on the move again.

Yvette comes from the village of Buta in Oriental Province, DRC. her parents were killed by the DRC army, she escaped to Kinshasa with her brother and sister where her brother went missing. Yvette met Paty who worked as an egg vendor on the streets of Kinshasa and followed him to South Africa with their 4 children.

Paty works the night shift as a security guard in the city and Yvette sells clothes on the beachfront. Mr Madiengua’s salary does not match up to the rent on their 14th floor flat, the landlords in the area are getting rid of families on the overcrowding rule. While the Madiengua family feel safe in their flat they struggle to keep up with the rent and the cost of a family and they are “fearful of the xenophobia in the townships”.


Internal Displacement Camps


Ekuthuleni Transit Camp in Durban, South Africa sits on a slope in T Section of Umlazi. The camp is next to a grave yard, above a sewage processing plant and just underneath high tension power lines and in the words of Bheki Mngadi a resident of the camp “there is an uneasiness to this place” – John Robinson



“If your foot taps to the beat… just go with it” – The words of a unknown music journalist at a jazz festival in South Africa many years ago.

What do you sense right now, yes right now as you read this blog. Is it important to you to be in touch, to be conscious of what YOU feel? What do red socks say to you, how does early morning light feel to you. Do you have a pair of red socks of your very own?

Is it hot where you are? What does the air taste like; does it stick in your air-way? Is it bright or are the lights turned down? Can you hear that sound outside right now?

As I write I listen to Viktoria Mullova on the computer, she is affecting me, her playing affects what I write and how I write… What do you think about the 2 wooden faces ‘looking’ towards you in the above photograph? I know of people who have burnt like sculpture because they felt to them as bad. Are you abhorred by such actions?

As I write I also want to hear how others see things. I perceived the above moment? How do you hold it?

Narrative photography is about a photograph telling a story, telling more then one story surely too. Narrative photography is also about the photographer as perceiver taking a step back and letting the photo speak for itself. Narrative photo editing is about a process of deselecting the unsuccessful  images and being left with the ‘story’ that remains, and by this process let your photographs at last be able to speak widely as they aught…

The photographer speaks while perceiving the moment, let your photography speak for you the photographer to your audience as perceived.



It’s a cut in time, did we get it? Moments are all around us, it’s about the zone. life is like ballet, it is a stage and we all have a part; perceiver, subject and viewer are positions of need in the narrative I call photography. There is no spoon feeding here, this is not a documentary on the big screen, no sitting back with music, words and just absorption on the Lazyboy in the lounge.

Narrative photography is a place of work, no sitting back for anyone. Maybe thats why its not popular, its not for a consumptive society of lazy boys…


Hate, fear and love are also 4 letter words; and by another 4 letter word, if I don’t grapple with their out working each and every day of my life.

H is now a friend of mine; she lives just off South Beach with her husband and works in her brother’s restaurant at the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street across from the old grave yard. She makes a petite Ethiopian coffee that my homeopath should never know about, and with its clove infusion is my favorite shot of down town coffee. Her brother’s restaurant is a scent filled alcove, without a menu he serves meat and salad on a plate of injera; a sour flatbread from their home in Ethiopia. H’s coffee is roasted and brewed on charcoal in front of me, she serves it in fine porcelain that her friend G sells alongside the coffee beans from the highlands of their homeland. It is because of local ‘hate of other’ that the brother has said no to photos of H here, it is out of respect for him that H quietly shook her head to me when I took out the M6 just off this road in down town Durban.

F is fearful and is still the victim of a brutal hijacking about 3 years ago. F can’t go out at night alone, and has panic attacks in dark places.

Fear is so debilitating, it’s a part of the psyche of many people who I know around me. As an age we are preoccupied with the concept of ‘safety’, America has a department devoted to the safety of their homeland. South Africa is devoted to the issue of their ‘crime’. For all our other advances we are not a people of can do but a people of can’t do due to our fear. I would like to be able to take F for a walk along a down town street, to sample coffee with clove, I feel that it will be awhile yet before F is ready to browse for porcelain on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. F’s fear is real, I can see it; there is nothing put on about it.

I will always love X, L and Y. But I lost my temper with L a long time ago, I did apologise and I am so sorry for what I did.

L is deeply hurt and I have to love from a distance. I live with these consequences and now know that love is not a fluffy thing. Love is deep like a river, it has a power of its own, and I have to love for all of us for now.

I will never stop loving and doing what I can for X, L and Y. I will continue to walk along side F and maybe one day we will go browse for porcelain together. I will be a friend to H and all others in little Addis Ababa on the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street.

Names have been changed to protect all those involved in this down town walk of mine.




I use the above film based M 6 rangefinder camera for all my important work, and I have used it for years.

Leica Camera GMBH has come out with the MD 262 series camera it’s a ‘chimp proof’ digital version of my M 6. The Leica MD 262 has no screen on it’s back plate. The MD 262 user will rely on just the discipline of the moment. Chimping is the practice of taking your eye off the subject at hand and checking your camera’s view screen to see what you have just shot.

But the new Leica MD 262 costs about $5000.00, I would like to own one, sorry Leica, like many other pros I now can’t afford to. Narrative photographers work for themselves, we have to cover our own costs and make a profit in a world where there is a glut of cheap imagery for the market to choose from; we are now putting off the buying of the latest cameras. I think that at the foundation of our troubles is the ‘chimp screen‘ on the back of digital cameras.

By ‘our troubles’, I refer to both narrative photogs and the makers of digital cameras.

I say a big up to the people at Wetzlar for realizing this obvious in the Leica MD 262 camera, it’s a step in the right direction to unf**king our collective selves in the above regard. Removing the screen from the back of a digital camera won’t do an iota of harm to quality photography, but it will put disciplined shooting back into the world of photography.

Disciplined shooting is when I immerse myself in the surroundings and keep my eye in the viewfinder capturing the moments as and when I perceive them. There is no going back to collecting a moment lost to the distraction of the bells and whistles of todays camera bodies. Magical moments are only collected through a mix of luck and perception, a moment can flash and be gone ‘like a cat in a door way’ or a wisp of smoke in the eye of the subject. Chimping will do me no good, and it may just cause me miss the next moment of magic. I know of photogs who tape over their camera’s screen, others who just program the camera not to flash the images when buffering.

Real photogs just need aperture, shutter speed and ISO, the rest can be sorted out at home before setting out on the shoot, and the final results can be edited with a cool head when the photog feels that the moment is over, also back at home or base camp.

Having a back plate screen on a digital camera is like having permanent training wheels on your pro bicycle. Without them we will preform much better; and the world will have a sustainable supply of images and the pro camera makers will have a segment of their market back…

John Robinson is an in touch narrative photographer based in the streets of Africa


Joshua G's  5th birthday

South Africa has a bad reputation on the crime front. But as a street photographer in South Africa I have not been mugged yet, and I have worked on these streets for about 20 years now.

Respect, this is someones home, people also live here. Before I leave my house I know what I want to message, though I might not have preconceived images in mind. If somebody just came up to me on the street with a camera I would be pissed. So I don’t do the same; I rather say Sir or Ma am, I am John Robinson and I am a photographer, I am doing a project on… and I have just made a few new friends in an area that I had none in a few moments ago. If things get edgy I have somebody who will vouch for me too…

A knowledge of local culture overrules knowledge of local language. I am a native tongue English speaker with just a smattering of Congolese French and even less Arabic and Swahili. What I do have is an understanding and appreciation of Ubuntu (African culture) and a wide general knowledge of things African. This knowledge continues to open so many doors without me trying to get my tongue around so many different languages.

I go local… I live in Durban, to get around my city I walk and use the local mini bus taxis. This practice keeps me ‘in the zone’ I am now comfortable on the streets of this busy port city. If I am hungry, I will eat from the street vendors rather then the big franchises. As I walk I greet all those I pass on the pavements. This comfort shows; I read as local and in the know, not as somebody out of his depth, an easy target.

These truths have worked as well for me in The Sudan, Uganda, The DRC, Johannesburg and in West Africa too… Yes I am also street wise, I know how to walk with purpose and keep in touch with my surroundings at the same time too. Afrikans are a hospitable people, and Africa is a welcoming place.

If you want to photograph on our shores, just know that this is our home, respect our culture and immerse your self in our way of life.





I prefer the Leica M6, it’s a small film (analogue) rangefinder camera that lets you view your subject through an offset viewfinder with no blackout and an almost silent cloth shutter.

I also have a Nikon D90 DSLR camera along with my Lumia 435 mobile phone camera, the Nikon is great for fast turn around work on the run, and the Lumia is a good visual notebook for day to day use.

But as a photographer I try to ‘step softly through the flowerbed’; trying to leave as little trace as possible.

A pair of ‘shooting shoes’ are are my foundation in the above respect, I feel that these shoes say to people around me that I am comfortable and feel at home in their space. These canvas takkies (sneakers) are light on my feet they are the closest thing to shooting bare foot which is what I would like to be doing.

The Tiffen Company have been making the Domke range of camera bags for years, and I like them. I am using the F-8. Domke camera bags are tough, easy to use on the run, I don’t have to worry about my kit when it’s in them and they are very good value for my hard earned cash. I don’t like back pack camera bags because they are on my back and so not easily accessible.

I always have a set of compact tools, a mini torch, power bank and a small memory stick with copies of my C.V. and other personal details.

Moleskine make a series of small notebooks made famous by the late Bruce Chatwin and together with a black gel ink pen they are hard wearing and do the job regarding sketching  and note taking.

As a result of a mild stroke 3 years ago I sometimes have a problem with stress kali phos 6 tissue salts work wonders for me.

Music hypes me up, so I don’t listen to it when I am shooting but I carry a blues harp and an old iPod with about 2 weeks worth of music on it for when I am writing, editing and or just sitting in the breeze.

I carry with me a Leica M6 rangefinder camera with 35 mm and 50 mm lenses. I like the look of film and the discipline of separating editing from shooting; while I am still ‘on site’ my head is not in the right space to edit my images. The Leica M6 has no blackout, when you shoot on a rangefinder camera you still ‘see’ the captured moment, and there is no shutter lag or mirror as on all DSLR cameras. …It’s a truth brothers and sisters, no matter how many frames per second a DSLR can shoot there is always a shutter lag and mirror shake that go with it.

I rely on a hand held Polaris flash meter for light metering. I use the meter in incident mode; it gives me an image where blacks are black and whites are whites just the way I see it with my eyes. Pre metering also frees me up to concentrate on the catching moment on my film.

I have a South African Police Service issue gun sling, I use it to secure my cameras, light meter, house keys and water bottle to me when I am on the streets anywhere. I got the idea from some some Hollywood ‘stan movie. Yes I know, I watch them…

Rolls of 400 iso 35 mm film are a given, I carry 2 spare rolls and one in the Leica at all times. I am shooting on Fuji X-TRA colour at the moment, and I over expose print film by a 3rd of a stop as a standard. I under expose transparency film by the same fraction. 400 iso film gives me enough light space when combined with my 1:2 lenses.

An old friend once introduced me to Fisherman’s Friend, they are bad ass throat lozenges. Don’t leave home without them if you are brave enough