Posted January 8th 2013 at 11:29 am by
in Storytelling Course 2013

How to Hold a "See the Story" Photography Workshop

Our class assignment for People, Planning, and the Story was simple: go out and take three pictures that told a story. This is how we did it.


Laurel Donaldson took this photo in the MIT Physics Department during our “See the Story” activity.

• Learning from Professionals

We first reviewed three photo essays: an urban slum in Mumbai; a 36-year photo collection of the same two storefronts; the personal story of an African American Bluegrass Busker quartet as told by the band leader.

Each example used a different approach. The first included pictures that told a wide-ranging story of urbanization. The photographer composed the pictures and provided descriptive captions of each image.  In contrast, the second, was a website depicting 36 years in the life of of the same storefront, which was captured in photographs and archived images (1977-200?).  No text was provided. The third was a two minute interview with the band leader of an African American Bluegrass quartet. The lead busker, told his personal story accompanied by music and pictures of the band.  I found the second more interesting, primarily because you could use your imagination to fill in story. The third approach conveyed a personal element absent the first two examples.

• Taking Our Own Photos

With these three examples well discussed, we set out on our own to develop a photo essay. Project directions were clear and concise: go out and take three photos and come back and describe them.

• Breakdown of Photoshoot

This mini photo storytelling exercise can be replicated anywhere:

Assignment:  Depict a story in three photos


– one free hour

–  a camera of any sort


1. Look around you, or go to a favorite spot that you would like to express, or an unknown place that you want to explore.

2. Photograph everything that intrigues you, exploring those things that really interest you in greater depth

3. Select three photos of either:

– the same object or scene “seen” differently, or

– different objects or scenes that together tell a story

Students looked all around campus and as far as Harvard Square for details, objects, places and scenes to document and investigate.  One student’s story addressed her experience with chronic illness.


Photo by Patty Espinoza-Toro.

I explored a sense of belonging and exclusion through the steep learning curve of glass blowing.

Amy Glass Lab Pictures

Photo by Amy Glasmeier.

Another student took on physical scale and the melding and juxtaposition of natural and fabricated elements in a series of photos of stones, wire and snow.

alexis wire ice 2

Photo by Alexis Shulman.

One student pondered his past, present and future, while another did a study of MIT graffiti.

Norman O Jr 3

What does the future you look like? Photo by Norman Ornelas Jr.

ellen 1

Photo by Ellen Daoust.

Another student documented the school’s physical barriers to perceived outsiders.


An unfriendly bench? Photo by Lawrence Barriner.

Another did a study of three lanterns, while someone else’s story explored nature and constructed form while playing with human presence.


Photo by Ruth Sappelt.

One story considered the student’s experience of applied learning, study, and the work of integrating them.


Photo by Laurel Donaldson.

Another student took on a block near MIT’s campus to examine an abandoned building and ponder the contrast between it and the surrounding area.

Lissy Photo 2

Photo by Lissy Romanow.

The final sequence observed an intersection from various vantage points, considering the many kinds of people who belong there, and the different ways they experience it.


Photo by Marcy Ostberg.

• Learning from Classmates

You could then either provide description as you reviewed the pictures, or you could preview your pictures allowing the viewer to offer interpretations of your images. Both methods worked equally well. In the first approach, storytelling helped listeners and viewers immediately grasp the photographer’s intentions. Lively discussion ensued. The second method offered a different type of creative engagement with the photographer. In both cases the discussion offered warm and empowering commentary about lighting, texture, courage, meaning, symbolism, and the role of the photographer in the act of image making. We devoted exactly 4 minutes to discussing each person’s photo essay.

You can view all the stories from our class here.

Post by Ruth Sappelt and Amy Glasmeier.

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