Photography and the Writing Process

Chelsea at the station by Alexis

On using images to craft and guide your stories

As a reader, I enjoy finding an article with a photo that makes me wonder: “Is that eel laughing at me? What’s she trying to tell me?” Whatever my answer is, it may not be what the author—or the eel—originally tried to convey. And I suppose that’s all right, if just a couple of neurons spark inside my skull, the photo’s job is done and the stage is set for the words to follow. I’ll probably keep my mind’s eye on that eel’s smile as I read.

But I’ve always wondered: How do you deal with photography if you are the writer?

Before Zinibu, I didn’t use to spend much time digging through pictures to accompany my text. I just poured my ideas on a yellow pad—I’ve renewed my bond with pen and paper, will tell you more about it someday—or into a text editor, and then searched for any snapshot to portray an obvious connection with the topic at hand.

So I’ve decided to change that and make photography selection one of the initial steps in my writing process, right after coming up with a concept and a headline. Now, I don’t think of a photo just as an ornament or a clue for the reader—which it certainly can be—but rather, as a guide, as a beacon for the writer.

Take for instance the subject of this article’s photo: Chelsea, Barbie’s little sister. Let’s say I imagine she’s waiting for her train to New York, tired of living in the shadows, eager to start anew and make a name of her own as a writer in the City of Dreams. As fantastic as it sounds, I can relate and use that to set the tone and keep the focus while I write.

I may already know what I want to say, and may have an outline or a draft jotted down, but the right photograph can inspire me to better describe the angst of commuters or the useless endeavors of procrastinators. You don’t want photos vying for your reader’s attention, though; keep the images bubbling in your head, subtly interweave them with your message, and use them to keep you on track when telling your story.

Remember: To write is to roam so prepare for the never-ending journey, grab your favorite backpack, fill it with your precious tricks, and pick as many as you need along the road.

Before I go, I have a confession to make about Chelsea: I didn’t know the name of the little lass so I had to browse my copy of Forever Barbie and consult the list of Barbie's friends and family on Wikipedia. There. See? I take these things seriously.

Published in writing , learning and photography

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