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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Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org