Good storytelling is good storytelling

Last week I wrote about how I was going to stop blogging on a fixed schedule. That still holds true, but since writing that, I had one of those “aha” moments where I was prompted to think about something in great depth. All that thought and pondering shouldn’t go to waste and so here it is as a blog entry.

Though I am hardly nostalgic for the good old days of blogging (just a week ago) I am learning to appreciate how blogging forced me to think through (and then intelligently articulate) what would otherwise have been some half baked idea.

A friend asked me if I wanted to interview some friends of hers who are, sadly, experiencing foreclosure for my project Foreclosed Dreams. I immediately said NO, but I also felt the obligation to explain to my friend why I was so quick in my response. I feel for the people whose dreams are being foreclosed upon. Every time I enter a foreclosed house I get a glimpse into the trauma. Though I can never fully “know” their pain, I aspire to convey some of that pain through my photographs.

Hearing someone talk about their experience as they are facing and going through the foreclosure process sounds like it might be compelling, but in reality it is probably not. The narrator is likely to get caught up in the details of the process, end up hung up on one particularly difficult moment or go on too long about an experience that hurt them, but has minimal meaning to an outside audience.

I am not trying to minimize their experience. I am trying to say that most people can’t tell their own stories in a brief, focused and compelling way that keeps the audience’s attention. By the way, I am not sure I could possibly tell my own personal story in such a way. What I do know is that the foreclosure crisis is a story that needs to be told. What I also know is that my career has shown me is that I am pretty good at telling other people’s stories in brief, focused and compelling ways that keep the audience’s attention.

If you think about that, you will appreciate why we read the novels, watch the films and attend the plays of certain people who are great story tellers in their respective media. The best story telling, in any media, mixes details with broader themes, drilling down into the information while keeping the narrative moving forward in a way that keeps the audience involved. The challenge with my foreclosure project is to do just that.

I like to think my photographs have enough detail to fulfill part of that same mission. By avoiding photographing individuals, I am also aspiring to making the work more broadly thematic and open to individual interpretation.

I have just started interviewing people to create what I am calling an audio collage that will accompany future exhibitions of the work. The idea is that as you view the images you hear many different voices talking broadly about home as concept, not just as place to sleep. Some will talk about finding “home’ while others will talk about building “home.” Still others will talk about losing their home as others will explore their memories of home.

We all know how, when you do NOT see a person speaking, you are more likely to picture yourself in the narrative, in much the same way as you might picture yourself in the houses I have been photographing. That is also why I am choosing not to make a video or a multi-media piece, so I can keep the focus away from specific individuals.

The idea behind the audio collage is that audio conveys an incredible depth of emotion as it also conveys the personality of the speaker. By listening to such an audio collage, the exhibition-goer will get a better understanding of the range of people impacted by the foreclosure crisis across a spectrum of age, ethnicity, gender, etc.

Creating the audio collage is my way of organizing/focusing the story telling that might have come out of the mouth of someone experiencing foreclosure. My concerns is that there narrative would have been more random and disjointed if I had simply followed up on my friend’s offer.

Then I thought about if my compressing the story to make it more compelling was somehow a function of the “digital age” and our ever shrinking attention span. Yes, that has exacerbated this problem. But, if you think back, few people have ever wanted to sit through any kind of story being told in its entirety. Great plays, films, novels, etc., all compress and distort time so the viewer gets the essence of the story with out getting bogged down in the minutiae of that story.

At the end of this long mediation I am back where I started. In the end, good storytelling is good storytelling. With digital technology empowering everyone as a potential story teller, it is more important than ever to be able to tell stories in brief, focused and compelling ways while keeping the audience’s attention. And that’s what I am trying so hard to do with my Foreclosed Dreams project.

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