Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Write the Story Behind the Photo

You will find this writing
 exercise and more than 50
 more in
Facilitating a
Lifewriting Group is Easy,
which you can order here.  

This is one of the exercises that I have used in lifewriting groups that always kindles many stories.

Note for lifewriting group facilitators: If you are using this activity for a group writing exercise, ask everyone to bring in 4–6 personal photos for this session. The photos should represent different times in their lives—childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, etc. It is preferred that they not bring professional portrait photographs. The most useful images for this activity are the ones with lots of “stuff” in the background—like their homes, automobiles, or other possessions. 
See below for link to a free downloadable .pdf version of this activity that can be used as a handout.

Choose a photo from your past that has some familiar objects in the background: a car you remember, a neighbor’s house, the fence you helped your Dad build, or the sandbox you played in. You get the idea. 

Study the picture. Look at everything in the photo. List the people and objects you see there. For example, in this photo from my childhood, I see:

  • Me!
  • A banana tree
  • Momma’s washer/dryer combination (hiding behind the banana tree)
  • Momma’s wicker basket
  • A trash can
  • The screen door to our back porch
  • Venetian blinds in the window

Write down who each person was. How were they related? What was each person doing? Did they want their photo taken? Do you know who took the photo? Why did they? If you don’t know why, speculate.

Study each object in the photo. Both those in the foreground and in the background. Take your time. Allow the memories to wash over you. Jot down things that occur to you. Don’t worry about complete sentences; just capture the gist of the memory on paper. Here are some examples from my photo:

  • All homes had screen doors. No air-conditioning in South Texas then!
  • Washer/dryer was in one unit. We could see fire through a hole in it.
  • Mom sprinkled her clothes before ironing.
  • Back porch was the coolest place in the summer; large ceiling fan; we played endless games of Monopoly there.
  • Venetian blinds were hard to clean.
  • We never ate bananas from that tree.

When you feel you have exhausted your memories, put the photo aside and go over your notes. Now you are ready to write about the memories that the photo inspired. Here’s just one memory that was prompted by my list:

In this case, the memories that the photo inspired seem to have nothing to do with the photograph. That really does not matter. A memory has been kindled. A story has been written.

A printer-friendly .pdf version may be freely downloaded here.

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