Telling a Great Story

At the heart of what I hope to create is the desire to tell a great story. Last year I read a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. He is one of my favorite contemporary authors. This book is about what it means to tell a great story with your own life. I was particularly struck by this comment:

“If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died.”

Miller is not talking about making up stories that you tell your friends and family. He is referring to the kind of life that a person leads. As an artist, I would like to do both. I would like to think that my life could potentially be just as interesting as anything I can create. That may not end up being true, but this underscores my desire for a good story, somewhere.

It is said of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Inklings, that much of what they wrote was inspired by the desire to write the kind of stories they themselves wanted to read. I’m finding this true of my photography as well. I’m learning more and more what it is about certain photographs that I enjoy seeing, and how those qualities might play into my own image-making. I am compelled by the feeling that what I truly want to see isn’t out there. And even if it was, I don’t think I would be satisfied with it, since I didn’t make it myself (that’s the arrogance of the artist coming through).

With some of my greatest influences being authors and various texts, you might think that writing a story of my own would be the best way for me to tell the kind of story I want. This brings up another quote that has resonated strongly with me. It comes from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Power of Myth:

“There is more reality in an image than in a word.”

I think this means that a word has too many “concrete” meanings behind it. When you say something, there is something you mean with those words, and the possible interpretations are limited, semantically. But with an image, you present something. You show the viewer a thing, an object or subject, and there are myriad interpretations for that image. This seems more akin to reality.

I like photography as a mode for telling stories because a photographer is necessarily dependent on the real world for their images. Sure, with modern technology a lot can be manipulated and obscured. But something necessarily has to exist in front of the camera for it to be photographed. Therefore, I have to create the story in front of my camera in order to photograph it.

As this year goes on, I am working towards creating a great story (somewhere). Photography is my chosen medium. Thus, I am forced into a position in which I must not only conceptualize the story I want to tell, but I must also figure out how to tell it using images instead of words. There may be plenty of words behind the image, but the image is the goal.

I want to tell a great story so that whenever I go, I’ll die too soon.


P.S.  Also from A Million Miles…

 “A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too.”

You’re invited.


Find the books:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

The Power of Myth

2 comments on “Telling a Great Story

  1. SoulWait says:

    I certainly agree! And living a great story doesn’t have to be outrageous. I think a person must simply decide what their story is going to be and embrace it. It may change in time. One person’s story may be an adventure tale while another’s is about a quieter life of creation. Many paths can lead to meaningful lives.

    Thanks for the comments!

  2. Darryl Baird says:

    Not meant as a disagreement (afterall, my email signature is a quote from Ted Orland — “My overall theory about artmaking is that if you lead an interesting life, you’re on track to make interesting art. How could it be otherwise?”), but there is some evidence that a quiet and private life can produce some very powerful art also.
    A current example of this phenomena is Vivian Maier, who posthumously published monograph “Vivian Maier: Street Photographer” will place her rapidly into the echelon of Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, and Francesca Woodman (for different reasons that the other two). She was (and largely still is) an unknown nanny who took to the streets of Chicago in her spare time, Rolleiflex in hand, and made some incredibly powerful imagery… but hardly La Vida Loca.

    Thanks for the invite.

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