Visual Storytelling

Today, when Peter and I left the house, I grabbed the camera, saying, “I want a cupcake. No, I mostly just want a picture of a cupcake with a candle in it. But then I’ll probably eat it anyway.”

We succeeded in the cupcake part of the mission (there is, believe it or not, a cupcake cafe a block and a half from my house), though I did have to pass up a million (or slightly less) jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered on the sidewalk behind the grocery story (Peter was late for work).

But the thought this ramble brings me to is this one: I stumbled-in-an-internet-way across this lesson plan from the New York Times about illustrated opinion columns. It grounds itself in the work of Maira Kalman, whose bloggings and occasional printed columns are a mix of hand written text, paintings and digital photographs.
I’ve only recently started taking and posting more pictures of my life. It’s quicker for me to take a picture and throw it up than it is to compose what I think of as a decent blog entry (I think in pictures, twitter updates and ten-page essays).

To me, though, a photograph or a drawing or painting is a far more personal method of communication than something written. Is this a holdover from when photographs were scare, intimate objects? Fifteen years ago, you’d have to page through endless albums, sift through dusty shoeboxes, hold curling strips of negatives up to the light if you were looking for a picture. Photographs were magical things to me. You looked at your world through a box, then you send its guts far away, and when the guts came back, there was your world! All flat and square and glossy in a way the world never is normally. And you put those flattened worlds in a book or a box and usually forgot about them. They were never really looked at, except on special occasions, Let’s Embarrass the Children occasions.

On my Flickr account, I have one picture which has been viewed over 250 times since I put it up. Five people I don’t know “call it a favorite.” I’m flattered, really. It’s a picture of my blue Royal typewriter, the one that met with an accident getting shipped home from Texas.

It’s a facile point, perhaps. Obviously, a photo now (a digital photo) isn’t scarce. And the modern teenager can embarrass them-self far more completely photographically with the internet than their parents ever could with baby pictures. But, because of that scarcity connection perhaps, I still feel that a story told with images is far more personal, unique and intimate than one told exclusively with words.

One last thing. I collect found objects, usually pictures and notes. I keep them all tacked to a corkboard in my room by the door. (It was heartbreaking to walk away from that jigsaw puzzle…) The pictures are my favorite. I find a disproportional number of children, grinning in amusement parks or clutching stuffed creatures bigger than them. It’s the artifact, in these cases, that feels special. With found objects, it’s the singularity of the object (and the experience of finding it) that make up the appeal. Digital visual stories (especially of the “handmade” variety, like Kalman’s), the appeal is in the intention. Is this a practical separation between unique artistic intention and creation of an artifact?

And with that, bed time, I think.

I had a lovely birthday.

Good night.