I just finished reading a book about the power of story. Another one. I keep coming back to this topic because I can’t escape the feeling that photographers are missing something. Sure, we acknowledge that some of the best photographs tell, or imply, a story. But it usually ends there. I think we can do better.
The book, The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall, reinforces the notion that story is central to our lives. In a very real sense we live for story. It gives us meaning where there appears to be none. It gives us direction. Teaches us. Inspires us. And we are surrounded by it. Narratives are everywhere, not the least of which are advertisements. And then I read an article about the rise of Instagram and something clicked for me. The article was, in short, about photographers – so-called Instagrammers – making a decent living as storytellers for major brands. The click: it is not only the power to make a single photograph that makes this new brand of photographer successful but the power and intent to make a single narrative out of many of them. A narrative we want to be a part of. A story that touches some longing in us.
If your goal is to connect with an audience, and to engage with them on some level then the stronger your story, the deeper your connection will be.
You may not like Instagram. I, despite my initial desire not to, love it. But I got on there and found – to my horror- that the best of the people I follow there have me hooked. There’s something in their (well-curated) lives that I want. Their style. Their passion. Their adventures. Their well-chiselled abs and yoga poses on impossibly serene beaches. Why? Because they are telling me a story. And I am – you are – hard-wired for story.
The take-away for me is this, and it’s been building a while: if your goal is to connect with an audience, and to engage with them on some level then the stronger your story, the deeper your connection will be. What does it mean to be stronger? More vulnerable. More consistent. More tightly curated. I am not arguing for such a tightly edited version of your life that it’s inauthentic, quite the contrary: the more authentic the storytelling, the more authentic the connection. Take away what is fundamentally not the story.
What’s your story? And to whom do you tell this story? Does your portfolio help tell the story? Your social media feeds? What about your headshot? Let’s talk about photographer’s headshots as a good example, because – real estate agents aside – I don’t know that I’ve seen an industry so in need of a headshot reformation (forgive me if you are not a photographer, but I think you’ll get the point all the same.) What does your headshot say about you and the story you are telling? Is it just you with a camera? That’s not a story. Well maybe it is, but it’s not much of one. In a world where billions of people have a camera, there’s not much compelling about the fact that you have one too. Here’s a start: show me the story you are living. Show me your personality. In some photographers’ headshots the camera seems to be the main point and I could, forgive the expression, give a toss about your camera. Give me something to connect to.
Who are you? What’s the story you are living and the story you are telling? Who is your audience? Now take away everything that’s not part of that story, and tell the most passionately, tightly-edited, authentic, vulnerable version of that story. Will it work? Well that’s a bit of a ruthless question because for most of us, we just long to tell the story, results be dammed. But yes, it will. Because as hard-wired as we are to tell stories (though we have to learn to do it well), we’re hard-wired to receive them. We hunger for them. Every advertiser on the planet knows and leverages this.
When I was in grade 7 I found a poster on a wall for a man named Guru Dev. It said: “I will not teach you Yoga. I will teach you love. Love itself will teach you Yoga.” Thirty years later I still roll my eyes. But my version rings true, and less creepy, too: don’t try so hard to sell me your brand. Tell me your story. Your story itself will sell me your brand.
Whatever you’re trying to share with the world – your photography, writing, business idea, or clothing brand, don’t tell me what to think, do, or buy: tell me a story. You will, I hope, find my story all through this blog, and my photographs. I’m beginning to put some of my stories on Maptia.com, including the featured image for this post which came from an epic trip across Canada, and a story I called 22,000Km Home.
Share this Post, Share the Love.