This post was originally posted at Digital Writing Month: http://www.digitalwritingmonth.com/2015/11/09/re-imagining-oneself-through-the-lens-of-the-world/
A few years ago I noticed a colleague of mine taking photos with her iPhone. They weren’t the usual photos of a group of friends or of your cute child or even the requisite selfie to document a moment in time, instead, she took photos to a prompt…and posted them on Instagram. I was intrigued.
Photography was always something that interested me, but I simply couldn’t be bothered lugging around all that equipment, setting up for perfect shots…or even knowing what made a perfect shot. But with my phone (and camera) in my pocket, it was handy…and I was ready for a challenge.
So I found a photo-a-day challenge with daily prompts and set out to give it a try. Prompts like one, logo, spoon, and inside sparked my imagination and I started looking at my environment through different eyes. I not only took at least a photo a day, I also posted at least one photo a day to my Instagram account (you can find me @kd0602). I took photos for a month, then a year…and now I continue to take and post photos regularly to Instagram. Somehow the more I took photos, the more I started thinking about the idea of blogging—an opportunity to write and share my writing in a public way.
When I started blogging in July of 2013, my goal was to write a blog post every day for 30 days. I knew that was ambitious and I also knew that I needed to challenge myself and keep to it to create a sustainable habit. Even as I picked a theme for my blog, I already knew that making a connection to my photography would motivate me. I called my blog Thinking Through My Lens–a play on the double meaning of the camera lens and my own perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started to blog every day was the power that the images I was snapping would have to stimulate my writing and help me frame my thinking. A yellow sign I photographed at a gelato shop featuring locally sourced ingredients became inspiration for a post about the importance of growing and valuing local leadership in writing projects and educational settings. Each image I took filled my head with language as I sorted through my thinking.
When I’m out viewing the world through my camera lens, I find myself thinking…about teaching, about life, about the world. My photos stimulate my thinking and my thinking sets me out in search of images.
Recently I was out in the mountains of Alabama, looking for the foliage that represents autumn in so many places–and that is mostly missing in my place (San Diego). Although the unseasonably warm (high 70s) and cloudy weather made the colors less vibrant, I noticed trees of gold and some touches of red. As I walked along some forest paths, I spied this brilliant red leaf among the brown, crunchy leaves and stooped to photograph it.
And as I look at it, I find myself composing the writing…about standing out in a crowd…about being different…about risk taking. t’s not written yet, but it’s brewing. I also found myself composing the photo, leaning in close to capture the details. And then later, maybe I’ll crop it, moving the red leaf away from the center of the frame, add a filter to brighten the red and increase the contrast… As with the writing, composing is a process and the framing, the editing, the balance of color and light all impact the ways the image will be read and understood. The images speak to me…and I hope they also speak to others, telling them stories that are likely different from mine.
Some images capture moods…the quiet introspection of a traveler with pant legs rolled up and his feet in the surf,
or the somber quality of birds silhouetted in a tree on a cloudy day.
And sometimes when it seems that there is nothing interesting to see and photograph, I head outside and explore. I push myself to play and re-imagine possible images. On one of those days not so long ago I picked a dandelion from my front yard (those glorious weeds seem to bring out my playfulness—and oh, does my husband rue their existence in our lawn!) and wondered how to photograph it in a different way. I noticed my car in the driveway and considered how I might capture the image if I blew on the dandelion near the rear-view mirror, but I didn’t seem to have enough hands for that. But as I was contemplating that idea, I noticed the reflection of the dandelion in the paint of the car…and I started snapping. I continued my play with some apps…and created this image.
And by embracing the ordinary, I experienced the exhilaration of exploration and play, which also led me to composing a teacher-artist manifesto using my photographs and my words to express the importance of play in the learning process. You can see it here.
So what comes first? The image or the words? It’s that age-old chicken and egg dilemma…it all depends on how you look at it, and the particulars of any given situation. And it seems to work that way for my students too. Sometimes they have a full blown idea that appears in words on a page and other times they see something, maybe even something they have seen many times before, and the image inspires their thinking and words. Even more fun happens when they start to really look closely at an image and they start to talk with each other and build on ideas presented by their classmates.
An Activity: Make Writing … Digital
Head out with your camera in hand (the one on your phone or iPad or a “real” camera) and take a look around. Let your camera lens give you “new eyes” and seek out the extraordinary in the ordinary around you. Get low, find the light. Tilt your lens up, try a new perspective. Watch and wait, take more shots than you think you’ll need. Then spend some time with your images, let your images release your imagination. Let yourself soak in them, let them wash over you, splashing you with inspiration and wonder. Then pick one. You can let it speak for itself and post it naked. Or you can let it whisper in your ear, guiding your words and your thoughts–framing an idea that you didn’t know you were ready for.
For inspiration, we encourage you to add a photograph of your “sky” to a collaborative project we are calling “Our Eyes on the Skies” — which uses an open Google Slide format. To add yours, just take a photograph of your sky. Head to “Our Eyes on the Skies.” Grab a slide. Upload your picture and label it. We hope to create a rich visual documentation of the world above our heads. You are invited. We look forward to a collection of skies from all over the world!
We hope you will share out your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.
Kim Douillard is a teacher-writer-blogger-photographer who also directs the San Diego Area Writing Project. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602 and on her blog at http://www.thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com