Personal Snapshots

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly ‘reading’ and decoding images. All images, all photographs. You can’t help it, its what we humans do. We are storytelling animals, and pictures, every picture we encounter, is a portal into a story space.

Part of your work in this journaling process is to become more aware of how you do this, because it will expand your power as an author, both visual and written, and lead you closer to the core of your own story. This is true of not only the pictures that you have been making, but also images from your past. We all have some historical archive that traces the trajectory of our lives through the past. The archive is larger and deeper for some than others, but we all have at least some visual trace of our personal history.

I want you to select a personal snapshot — from last year’s vacation, or a picture your aunt took when you were eight years old, or whatever. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be a picture of you. It could be a picture of your father when he served in the army, or a family pet at some long ago birthday party, or some random snapshot taken from the backseat of a moving car. The snapshot can be of anything. The only rule for this exercise are that the picture must be connected somehow to your personal history, and there is something about the picture that brings to mind a story, a story matters to you.

Spend (at least) 10 minutes writing the story of this picture. Here are some possible writing prompts:

What are the facts?
What are the emotions, if any?
How are the facts and the emotions different? Similar?
What does this picture tell you about who you are and where you come from?
Describe who you were at the time the picture was made. How are you different now?
What do you see in this picture that no one else could ever see or know?

Exercise extension
Imagine that you bought this snapshot in a junk shop, that you have no personal connection to it and no knowledge of its true history: you are simply drawn somehow to the composition or subject. Invent a new story for this picture, one that sees it more as imaginary fiction, rather than historical document.

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