Imagining the Story Behind a Photograph

The best photographs often tell a story, whether real or imagined. In our online visual journaling workshop, we practiced telling three types of stories – ambiguous, personal, and documentary (as described in this article from Digital Photography School).

I found the ambiguous (or imagined) story to be quite fun to do. With the photograph below, called Secret Garden, I started to think about who planted the beautiful garden seen beyond the white picket fence. The story evolved from there and I was quite surprised by the ending.


Secret Garden


Once Belonged

There was a time when I was allowed inside. I cared for this secret garden. As a matter of fact, I planted most of what is still here.

But, that was many, many years ago. Back then, I felt a part of the family. They saw me every day in the garden and stopped to say hello and have a conversation. Sometimes, they would even invite me to take a break and have a cup of tea or cold lemonade with them.

There was lots of laughter and I felt like I belonged. I thought they truly cared for me.

Then, I grew older and couldn’t do the manual labour as well anymore. One day, they gently suggested that it was time for a new gardener. They thanked me for my many years of service.

The new gardener seems to be keeping up well. I only know because I can peep through the fence every once in awhile.

I hope you’ll give this a try with one of your own photographs.


p.s. If writing about your photographs is intriguing to you (and you’re in Ontario this summer), please consider joining Sally Gentle Drew and me for a one-day workshop in visual journaling – Saturday, July 18th in Burlington, Ontario. Learn more here.


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Niagara-on-the-Lake Abstracts – Looking Down

One of my current projects is to create abstract photographs of my hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. With abstract photography, we try to reflect the mood or emotions or qualities of a place. Each Tuesday, I’ll present a new image from the project.

This week’s post was inspired by an article I read about the sculptor, Charles Ray (via Improvised Life and the New Yorker). A teacher once said this about one of his sculptures.

It shows me you want to make something, instead of discovering something. Don’t ever do that in my class again.

Writing and wonder mentor, Jeffrey Davis, advised me this week to “draft to discover.”

This is an important part of the process of writing and photography for me. I do both to discover what’s already there.

Below are three photographs I discovered last week – abstract views of fallen blossoms.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist town, stepped in history. It’s surrounded on two sides by water – Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. The world famous Niagara Falls are twenty miles down the road.

It has a world class theatre series called the Shaw Festival, which draws thousands from April through November.

This town was the first capital of Canada and one of the major battlegrounds for the War of 1812. You can see re-enactments at Fort George. The U.S. counterpart, Fort Niagara, can be seen across the river.

This is one of the best agricultural areas in all of Canada, known for its fruit – grapes especially, and is now home to more than 100 wineries.


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Photography – a Cause of Health

I’m reading and working with a fascinating book by Dr. Mario Martinez, The MindBody Code, on how cultural beliefs shape our perceptions and affect our biological processes, including our immune system.

These cultural beliefs can result in what he calls primitive emotions which grow from fear – anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment, envy, greed, shame. While these emotions are valid – they provide important information – they can also keep us from being our best and affect our health.

On the other hand, what he calls exalted emotions, based on love – empathy, compassion, gratitude, awe, inspirations, etc. – are the causes of health.

The way to a healthier body and mind is through a mind/body approach – confront (fears), release (dysfunction), and replace (unworthiness) with these exalted emotions.

Through his studies of healthy centenarians (over the age of 100), Martinez found that they defy cultural perceptions around aging. Their bodies may be aging, yet they embrace complexity and new learning. They are creative, flexible, persevering, and resilient.

How do they do it?

They’ve learned to shift their mindset from passing time to engaging space; from things happen to us to how we can be mindful in our space. ~ The MindBody Code

Our cameras can teach us how to do this.

When we approach photography from a contemplative mindset, we cultivate the qualities or habits of contemplative living – openness, attention, acceptance, humility, wonder, simplicity, curiosity, possibilities, and connection. These habits are closely related to the exalted emotions mentioned above – the causes of a happier, healthier life.

For example, in the visual journaling workshop, Once Upon a Time, we discussed why we take photographs. Many answered that the process of photography makes them feel gratitude. Martinez says that gratitude – an exalted emotion – promotes receptiveness or openness (a contemplative habit).

Through photography, we embody the experience of gratitude.

I know that photography has helped me to incorporate these exalted emotions on a more regular basis. And, I know I want to continue to grow and learn, despite my aging body. How about you?

Listen: Dr. Mario Martinez on the Sounds True podcast, Insights at the Edge

Book: The MindBody Code

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