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How to Tell a Story with a Photograph

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Storytelling around a photograph is a part of the Java Music Club. Stories use metaphor and imagery to change the way we see our lives and the world, offering healing and growth to everyone – both the teller of the story and the listener. It is entertaining but also therapeutic because it offers a new perspective, a way for the listener to look their struggles in a new light. Stories connect us to each other, provide comfort and help us find meaning and hope.

Sharing a PhotoBut how do you tell a story with a photograph? It can be a challenge if you have not done it before. But it is a skill worth learning, especially if you have the privilege of working with those with cognitive impairment. It is based on the idea that the same photo can be the foundation of many different stories. It is a lot of fun once you get going. No talent required. Anyone can learn how to come up with inventive and meaningful stories. Here’s a step by step guide on how. Print this out and take it with you to practice. There is no right or wrong. After a few sessions, you won’t need the guide.

Step One:  Describe the Character

The first step is to look at your character. Describe him or her – perhaps even give him/her a name. What do they like or dislike. What do they care the most about? You can be inventive with this. If the participants are able, invite them to contribute, e.g. a group story.
Example questions: “What’s her name? What do you think she cares about?”

Step Two:  Tell the Story

Think of a beginning, a location, a dilemma, a turning point and an end.

  1. The Beginning: What happened before the photo was taken?
    Make it up – e.g. how did she get there, what happened to bring her there?
  2. The Location: Where is this? It’s better to think of places in general, rather than specific countries or towns. A place the listeners are transported to. E.g. the top of a mountain.
  3. The Dilemma: To make it interesting, something has to happen. Give your character a problem; something they need to overcome. Focus on emotions, as this is what people tend to relate to and remember. This is especially important if you are sharing with those with more cognitive impairment. Think about problems you have experienced. Is she lonely, or struggling with something? Is there an inner conflict?
  4. The Turning Point: This is where your character discovers something that points the way out of the dilemma. A Eureka moment – surprises are always good.
  5. The Ending: All endings don’t have to be “…and they lived happily ever after.” Endings are not always perfect but it is good to aim for some kind of a resolution – acceptance is a satisfying ending too. If it there is a twist in your story, even better.

No perfection is required here – it’s totally OK to use only a part of the steps. With practice it gets easy. If you feel uncertain, take any photo and try it first on your own—have fun!

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