January 15, 2010

What does storytelling look like?

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This question, "What does storytelling look like?" came up as I was re-designing a website for a local storytelling organization. I was having trouble porting over the organization's website header to the new template, and so I wondered if I could create a new one, using a combination of the organization's logo and an image that captured the essence of storytelling.

It's hard to capture that moment in a photograph.

You'll notice that a lot of professional storytellers have head shots (de rigeur for business)> Many have publicity photos of themselves in a dynamic pose. The pictures are attractive, even engaging, but they don't show the act of storytelling: they hint at it.

I visited some stock photo sites, but the few images that turned up were too staged, and often featured a parent reading a book. Google images wasn't much better.

And the wisdom of crowds doesn't help (looking for "storyteller" or "storytelling" on Flickr and Picasa doesn't yield any evocative images.)

I ended up abandoning my attempt to create a new logo, but the question came up again when I noticed that over at the National Storytelling Network, the front page had added a slideshow. The questions of "what does storytelling look like?" came up again.

A picture of a storyteller on a stage documents a performance. It shows that storytellers so-and-so were at such-and-such a place for this-or-that event. It might even be a dynamic shot. But if I don't know who that performer is, or that it's a storytelling event, would I think "storytelling" just from the photo?

Does the audience need to be in the photo? And how would you distinguish a photo of someone giving a speech from that of someone telling a story?

I don't have an answer. Have you seen a picture that captures the essence of storytelling? Post in the comments.

For now, I'll leave you with some pictures to explore:

Selections from The Ray Hunold Photography Collection (19,000 photos of storytellers, housed at UC Davis) Scroll down to see some B&W photos of West Coast tellers from two decades ago.

The National Storytelling Festival Photo Gallery (photos taken by Tom Raymond of Fresh Air Photo)

Slideshow of 2008 Ojai Storytelling Festival (photos by Dean Zatkowsky)