There’s a video that’s making the rounds. In it, six photographers are separately told different stories about the same model/actor before given the opportunity to photograph him.

You might argue it’s a clever bit of acting on the part of the model to convey the personality associated with each character. By focusing on his steely look or the relaxed smile, you limit your field of view to only the narrow representation of content… the tree. Step back, though, and look at how the photographer has composed the shot and framed the person. That’s when you see the whole picture… the forest and the tree.

All of the photographers had access to the same props, same space, same light source.

Why was the recovering alcoholic on a stool, fully in frame, and set against a looming background? The fisherman brightly centered, stretching out in a lounge chair? The millionaire’s bust prominent in the foreground with nothing beyond him? The prisoner stealing just a small spot at the bottom of the frame in front of a blurry expanse? The life-saver softly focused from the waist-up and looking into the distance, away from the camera? The psychic occupying only the bottom half of the frame, seated ahead of an empty chair with a mostly-focused background?

The content–the model in this case–is the constant.

The context–the props, framing, lighting and focus–justify and give meaning to the content.

If it weren’t for the context, the content would be one man dressed one way and showing that he can deliver six different facial expressions and styles of body language. There would be no story even if the writer insists there is.

Context is king. I rest my case.