Using a Photograph

Photographs can be a remarkably useful help to your writing. 

          Whether you’re using a personal photo from your past, or a National Geographic-type image for research purposes, pictures can stimulate our creativity in a way that nothing else really can.  The great thing about pictures is that they don’t change.  They don’t move.  They don’t age.  The light in a photograph doesn’t suddenly become higher or deeper than it was five minutes ago, as the sun falls behind the large oak in your backyard. 

You can paint (with words) from your photograph – layering color, adding detail and shading, until your piece of writing is as vivid and subtly stunning as the picture you used for inspiration. 

~ Kat.

Here’s an example of using a photo from former student, Bill Schnupp:

          Springtime, stubby grass fighting through snow to reach the light. Half-light really.  The sun remembers what to do, but acts the shy stranger.  He recalls the moon and what she told him in passing yesterday afternoon – “Winter stays long up this high.” Gooseberry bushes and bitterbrush, stripped half-way to the bottom by hungry deer. Little creek pushing the dead ice of winter away from the green life of spring. Wildflowers, still bashful from the chill in the air, but they’ll wink at you by the time light tops the gully.  Red-wings try a little song, cough; they’re rusty from the long winter. Mother mole, she does not see well, but works twice as hard to make up for it. She’s carrying out mouthfuls of dirt for spring cleaning.

          A boy in an old red cotton shirt sits in the middle of it all. He does nothing, just sits, but still feels he’s playing a part. His face … a smile, but with squinty blue eyes. He’s listening for something, trying to see who it is that’s coming to visit next. What hits his ear is a high-pitched whine, like a baby, but he knows it to be rabbit. It is not a good sound she makes; it is her death sound. It makes the boy weary and sad, that on a day when all others are starting to wake, rabbit is made to lie and sleep.

(Schnupp’s comment: The photo I’m using is one of me with around age 10, visiting family on the Duck Valley Reservation. I tried to recall the scene as well as feelings observations from when the photo was taken. I liked doing the choppy descriptions in the “Free Listing” exercise, so I’m trying that terse style again here.)


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