Omkari Williams

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The Ways of Story

A friend of mine and her husband have recently finished a massive project of pulling together her late father-in-law's remarkable photography for a show that will be happening in Berlin, and that got me thinking about the ways of story; the many paths through which story enters into our lives. Earlier in my life I had my issues with the "A picture is worth a thousand words" thing.

Yeah, yeah I got it, but as a writer and someone who likes to talk stories into the world I just didn't like what felt like an infringement on my realm of words. But then I started looking at some of the fantastic photography that exists in the world and I had to rethink my position.

From the images in National Geographic to the everyday photos taken of children in classrooms all over the world every year, images naturally have a story to tell. The fascinating thing to me is how many stories a single image can tell. Actually each image can tell as many stories as there are people observing it because we don't come to photos or books, or anything else for that matter, as a blank slate. We bring our own story, our own understanding of the world, with us and that makes our observing unique.

Looking at the image of a particular child in a particular sixth grade class I see something likely quite different than you do. Yes, we both see the child, we see what they are wearing, whether they are a boy or girl. On those things we can agree, and then we each bring ourself to the tale. We see them not only through our adult eyes but also through the eyes of the sixth grader that we ourselves were.

For me those eyes include the memory of my most hated teacher, Mrs. Siegel. She was a nasty piece of work who had long passed the time, if ever it existed, when she liked children. She took great pleasure in ridiculing and humiliating her students, and that story is with me to this day. She was so horrible that when my brother got to sixth grade my mother met with the school principal to insist that he not be in her class. He got a fantastic teacher and I am quite sure that he would look at a sixth grade photo very differently than I.

It's because we all filter story through our individual lens that each story is so important. Whether the story be told in words, images, dance, music, or any other form, each person's story is part of an amazing whole, and without your part the tapestry is missing threads. We need each other's stories to fill in the missing threads. We need each other's stories to help us balance and expand our view of the world.

This is what story does, no matter the form it takes, it opens us, comforts us, renews us, emboldens us, and reminds us that we are not alone in this world.


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