Time, place, character, event – the talking photo album

Story telling is such an important aspect of our lives and learning, and is certainly at the heart of good film making. The process of constructing a story – deciding on what are the key moments, understanding the characters and context  - is an invaluable skill.

Photographs can help act as 'key frames' in our own stories. Maybe a photograph doesn't tell the whole story but it can jog the memory. You fill in the gaps – "in-betweening" as animators might say.

Supposing you were to describe your own story with the help of the photos you happen to have at home? You might spread the photos out on the table, select the ones that best capture the special times and then fill in the gaps using your own recollections.  

This is the old fashioned experience of the photo album with its page by page narrative which forces us to record and recall our lives in a linear fashion – ideally suited to story telling. Perhaps the way we share and view electronic photographs now is in danger of losing order of time – or perhaps not!

Blogs and photo websites like Flickr stack up your memories in order of time so we can look back in chronological order.  But more than that, we can examine the places and characters of our story through gps tagging and face recognition.

The talking photo album idea


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A school I was working with had the idea that we could record interviews about the history of the school. These audio clips could then be attached to old photographs in an album.  

Step 1

The process of constructing the album involved carefully deciding on the order of the events and finding key images.  

Step 2

Once the images has been found and put in order in the album, an interviewee would be found to tell the story (or part of a story) using the photographs as a prompt. The story would be recorded in sound only as the interviewee turned the pages of the album.

Step 3

The audio is edited into chunks to be attached to each of the photographs in the album. Each chunk of the story is saved as a sequentially numbered MP3 file

Step 4

The school purchased a special "talking photo album" from talkingproducts.co.uk.  These albums have about twenty pages designed for 7×5 photos. They also include a slot for a flash drive for the recordings. As you turn the pages you can look at the photo and press a button for each bit of the story.


I like the combination of the physical album and the recorded story. The process of constructing the album really makes you think about the structure of the events and how they are represented in pictures. And more than that, it helps you to understand the relationship between the image and the spoken word in the telling of the story.  For the listener browsing the album it can be an intensely personal one-to-one experience.

As an exercise in multimedia story telling I can recommend this as an engaging project which is simpler that making a film but can be just as powerful.

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ideas for street photography

ilkley- big step

The Ilkley Flickr group met on Sunday morning. One of the things we have been talking about has been street photography and was also dealt with in a photo-camp event in Bradford.
Photographing people in the wild, in their natural habitat, is a great sport but one which is fraught with danger. The attraction for me is that it is about people and stories.

Looking thought he street photography groups on flickr there are some wonderful images but many seem to lack a vital ingredient. While many are beautifully lit and composed there is often a lack of story.
A story for me is when you engage with the characters and ask questions – what are they doing? What has just happened? What is about to happen? Often a photo will capture a particular action – Henri Cartier-Bresson called it "the decisive moment".

The raising of questions and the possibility that there are actions beyond the photograph – either in time or space – creates a lively reading; it makes you want to stay and look into the photograph. A photo can be beautiful as a composition and that of course is a lovely thing, but for me I hanker for stories and action. I love it when there is an interplay between the characters and the environment. A street photo is, in this respect, not a portrait but a piece of photo-journalism. We not only need to relate to the characters in the story but to see something of their setting and and what's going on around them.

The mechanics of taking street photos is rich with possibilities for success or failure. Do you use a long lens to avoid being noticed? Do you use a wide lens and get up close? What about asking for permission – before or after you have taken the photo. I don't have an answer to these questions but I would say that the photos that have come out best are when I have been quite open about taking them. The subjects have noticed me taking the shots but have not had time to pose; they look at the camera but otherwise have not reacted to it. I have usually smiled and waved in a self conscious way as if to say thanks.

Another question for me has been monochrome or colour. I like black and white but I struggle to believe that it is flexible enough for street photography. Back in the days of Cartier-Bresson you imagine much of the world to be in black and white. Today colour is an essential part of out identity. I don't feel black and white can cover the richness of how people dress. In the photo I have published the red and green of the women's clothes would not register and yet they are essential to their personality.

An aspect of colour is processing. In my line of work I have sat in on many film colour grading sessions. In TV or cinema colour grading is an art and good colourists are highly valued. One of the aims of colour grading is to arrange for a limited colour palate which enhances skin tone. A blue/green shade makes most skin tones jump out of the screen and many feature films adopt this colouring to enhance the presence of people's faces. You'll see blue/green teal colour in the blacks and shadows. I'm no expert in this but the point I'm making is that no-one on TV or cinema would present images straight out of the camera without some expert grading.
With the above in mind I have been experimenting with a cinema/tv style grading for my street photos designed to bring out the skin tones.

I'd be interested to know what you think.  see some more photos