“The Tale of an Engineer’s Portrait” is about the vocation of British railway engineer Phil Crawshaw. Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in York, U.K. it not only describes one man’s career, but also chronicles a history of the British railway system in general. Not only do we learn about this particular engineer’s career, but the complexity of locomotive repair, a particular railway incident in Crawshaw’s career, as well as the evolution of the English railway system over the last forty years.
Technically the short is a good example of digital storytelling because it is executed simply. The video comprises very few effects. There is no music within the video, but this fact emphasizes the simplicity of the story and focuses the viewer on the narrator’s tone of voice. He describes his career with precision and care, conveying a similar attitude toward his vocation. The video begins with a pencil drawing of the speaker given to him by coworkers. This picture is the main theme of the story that bookends the video. While at the beginning the viewer sees it as a simple pencil portrait, by the end, the viewer sees the portrait in a different light– in context of the narrator’s career. This is an effective way to use one otherwise unremarkable picture to convey a powerful emotional theme.
Artistically the pictures are amateur, but convey the narrator’s passion toward his career. The video is effective in executing a topic that could have been boring, but for its narrative arc. In this way, it’s a great example of the dramatic suggestions referenced in the Storytelling Cookbook. Overall, the video demonstrates how pictures can be used simply and effectively.
One drawback to the video is it lacks clear signposts to guide the viewer. At points, the narrative becomes a jumbled litany of the narrator’s jobs, but overall, the pictures make Crawshaw’s career a persuasive and educational commentary on the British railway system. This digital short is an effective example of how one person’s story can educate with simplicity on broader topics.