Last August, Deborah Marshall, of Warrior Arts Alliance and Missouri Humanities Council, asked me to lead a workshop for veterans with PTSD at the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital, in St. Louis. I have to admit, I had a wonderful time teaching the importance of the photography role in writing, to the veterans.
This October, I was fortunate to lead two more workshops, titled “Every Picture Tells a Story” at the same location.
In the first class, I talked about capturing images on film as a child. I built a pinhole camera way back then, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since. When I first picked up the pen, I found that photography helped me recreate the feeling of being ‘in the moment’, sort of like I traveled back in time.
Though freelance contracts, I’d find myself photographing a particular location or event – people, beaches, meadows, and even food. This aided in story development. The pictures helped me fill in the blanks and recap memories.
I shared a slideshow of photos from my travel assignments from AAA Travel and Missouri Life with the students, and expressed what each photo meant to me.
I stressed the importance of ‘show, don’t tell’, and how we need to tap all of our senses, thoughts and feelings when telling a story. I urged the students to snap photos of anything – people’s actions, the sunlight on a rose, the soulfulness in a dog’s eyes. They could always go back and write about the images later.
I read from Anne Lamott’s bird by bird, the Polaroids chapter, and relayed the relevance of ‘the big picture.’ During their first writing assignment in class, my hubby projected a photo on the computer monitor. With written instructions, I asked the students to convey in writing what they were feeling and doing, the time of day, the season – all the little details pertinent to showing, not telling.
When the exercise was over, the students offered to share stories aloud. I was amazed by the many interpretations just one photo could convey. And I was proud.
We discussed the rules of writing, and writing tips. Then I distributed another exercise, on overuse of words. We applied this to a second writing exercise.
Once again, I was overjoyed by their answers and creativity. They got it. They truly got it.
I distributed a homework exercise in the form of an essay I’d written, accompanied by hubby’s photo of a ten-foot Caribbean reef shark, and asked them to highlight colorful descriptions throughout the essay that created visual images in their mind. We’d discuss next week.
I looked at the clock, and realized two hours had flown by. As I packed up my papers, computer, and class aids, the veterans shuffled past hubby and me on their way out the door. They said they planned on coming back to class next week, eager to learn something new.
On the way to the car, one of the woman approached me and said, “You’re a great facilitator; can’t wait to see you again. You made class fun.”
Funny thing. I’d never thought about myself in that way.
So when Rita from the VA left me a voice mail stating most of the students were returning for the second class, I decided to create a new syllabus for “Every Picture Tells a Story – Part Two.”
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post and what we talked about…