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. 



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