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Photographing the Journey: Pictures in Storytelling

A man joyously leaping, wearing a bright pink tutu.

Sometimes, words fail us. And unfortunately, sometimes they fail when we need them most: to explain the pain or suffering, or exalt in joy. To convey a tenderness or a fragility, a vulnerability or power.

Sometimes words, as wonderful as they can be—soothing or life-affirming or hilarious or kind—are fraught with baggage, tone, motives. Or our mental thesaurus goes missing in the moment we need it most. Our words can clunk when we need them to soar. Or to cut through the noise.

In an information-overload time, a photograph can be a welcome respite for the eye. And choosing a meaning behind it rather than being told what the definition is can feel like a whole new realm of freedom. The camera hides nothing. Your struggles, your victories, your moments laid bare, but without the prescriptive words to lead the viewer to a fixed conclusion.

Those moments that make up your story will, believe it or not—no matter how visceral, real, or deeply felt—fade and blur together eventually and what will be left is this record of your strength, the non-judgmental witness to your journey. A collection that, if shared, may very well may help a complete stranger feel like you understand them. Or they understand you.

Indeed, that’s how so many photographic projects have become so irresistible and popular online—from the sweet, funny, and courageous husband-and-wife team of Bob and Linda Carey raising funds—and using humor while doing it—for their Tutu Project, which provides assistance to men and women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Or the tenacious, inspiring Bonnie Fournier of The Smooch! Project, which is engaged in a years-long effort to collect 10,000 images of people kissing from around the world.

Many projects began from a place of need—to express what feels inexpressible in words. To share with the world. But the authenticity and bravery that shines through each project gives us all hope, and a space in which to herd our most optimistic thoughts.

We’re told a picture is worth a thousand words. But you can’t put any kind of value on telling these inspiring stories. When these photography projects are shared in a way that feels genuine, to communicate and to document for posterity, and to foster conversation and compassion—they’re priceless.

Has photography, artwork, music or other creative outlets helped you during a challenging time? Share your thoughts below in our comments section.

About the Author:

Katie Dohman is a freelance writer and editor living in St. Paul with her husband, new baby girl, and two rescue mutts.

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  • By Kathy

    She’s being discharged from Brigham and Womens Hospital tomorrow Cancer-Free after 7 months of very intensive AML treatments and a Stem Cell Transplant!