It’s About Story Telling

I was planning to teach a course recently for new photographers on the subject of storytelling and research. Chris Alvanas, Director of Photography at CDIA-BU (DC) and Cary Wolinsky, one of the founders of CDIA at Boston University brought me in to CDIA's campus in Washington, DC to pass on some of the knowledge I’ve gained in three decades of working with photographers, picture editors, writers, and article editors to shape story development. It was exciting to have such an opportunity, and a bit daunting.


The art of visual storytelling has become richer in possibility in the past couple of decades. From still photography to video and multimedia to what some are calling cinematography, storytelling is full of opportunities to create informative, compelling visual tales. That is not to say that paying clients are always ready and waiting: the business of photography has also changed enormously on the revenue side of things, and not for the better, but the number of platforms for self-generated work have increased, and anecdotal evidence shows that those who are creating work in some of the new multimedia – those who go beyond a simple slide show gallery with a bit of music – are putting their work out there, and they are getting jobs.


Digital storytelling  programs at several university’s are rich ground for learning what others are doing in the field of storytelling. The University of Houston, and its article on the “7 Elements of Digital Storytelling“  are worthy starting points.


The Center for Digital Story Telling at Berkely is also a rich resource. I especially liked the Digital Storyteller’s Cookbook by the center’s Joe Lambert. The Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is a wonderful resource. Their nuts and bolts approach to the technical side is well worth the time to go through the components: 


In preparing for the class, I asked some who are very experienced in the world of storytelling photography to suggest websites and stories to inspire the students. Here are some of the suggestions, for anyone who is still interested.


Following in the footsteps of such creative artists won’t guarantee a paying job – your creativity and technical ability to tell a story will do that. For some who are starting out in the field of storytelling, however, even knowing where to start seems difficult.


Some suggestions:


Ed Kashi suggested students pay attention to MediaStorm, a suggestion that I had from just about everyone I spoke with. Kashi also said “It would be worth looking at what Open Society Foundations, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Water Aid, Medicin Sans Frontiers and many of the other NGOs and foundations are doing in the expanding space of advocacy journalism, which uses stills and multimedia.” Kashi is an innovator, and definitely is one of the people who has pushed himself to work at going well beyond just shooting stills.


Ed pointed out a few places to see some of his work, and they are worth passing along:

"The Leaves Keep Falling" 

"Justice Denied" 

"Photojournalisms" which is also an app at the iTunes store.  


Richard Olsenius suggested looking at the simple story called “Going Home” which is part of a longer project of his work: 


Kent Kobersteen suggested David Alan Harvey’s Burn Magazine. Harvey is pushing the envelope by nurturing new photographers and storytellers with vision and guts, and the work is stunning.


Medford Taylor's "Bulldust" is a wonderful example of grit and texture. 


Ken Touchton, who has been working in photography for NGOs around the world suggested students look at the work of Atlanta photographer, Stanley Leary.


David Valdez passed along a recent interview he gave at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas: 


Cathy Sachs suggested the work of Paula Lerner, in particular “Women Bee Keepers of Afghanistan” (5min)



Kat Forder, a recent CDIA-BU (DC) grad who is now working in multimedia for clients suggested the work of Melani Burford


Look for Burford’s story, "The Monster Under the Water" 11min, 02sec) 


And here are some of the stories I showed to the students from what has impressed me:


James Mollison “Where Children Sleep” (3min)



James Mollison, “The Disciples” is a clever way of telling the story of pop music fans and what they wear to concerts.



Danny Wilcox Frazier, “Driftless” (6min, 44sec)


Lynn Johnson, “Vanishing Voices” in National Geographic is a wonderful picture story. 


Bob Krist, “The Restoration of Number 40” (5min, 20sec)



I found The PhotoSociety to be very helpful. Most of the work there is solid, though some of the video is a bit self-referential, but that is apparently what National Geographic thinks viewers want in place of stories.



Elizabeth Shaw, (another CDIA-BU (DC) grad has won awards with her “Gold Star Mothers”


Erik Maierson, “Three Women” (5min 13 sec)


Julie Winoker and Ed Kashi, “The Sandwich Generation” (11min 20sec)



Mario Tama, “Life in Appalachia” in the Denver Post.


“If we want different values, we have to tell a different story,” Beeban Kidron said in her 2012 TED talk: "Beeban Kidron: The shared wonder of film." If you’ve not seen it, you owe it to yourself to look at how the power of film can change children’s lives. This is why we tell stories, to inspire and educate.


Sometimes, it seems you can't turn around without another inspiring and wonderful example of storytelling hitting you in the eye. 


A late addition to this blog post: a designer friend recommended Time's Lightbox, which is an excellent suggestion for powerful imagery. 


And Photo District News, although one has to look for good stories there, it is still useful for backchatter and tips, and there are some remarkable photographers on there. 



One Response to “It’s About Story Telling”

  1. Thanks for the mention!

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