How to Write a Photo Essay

I’ve never been a photographer. It’s a shame, really, the way we carry cameras around with us at all times; a moment captured at the tap of the finger, anywhere, anytime. It could not be easier to collect photographs from the world around us, and yet, time and time again I find myself going through the motions of life without thinking to pause for a minute and take a picture. My camera roll is essentially screenshots of text conversation and notes I missed from class.

But wait — isn’t the uncanny availability of technology what we’re afraid of? Isn’t photography being depleted by selfies and portrait mode and filters and photoshop? I know a lot of people who would say they go through the motions of life taking the pictures and forgetting to look at the sunset, not vice versa. But for some reason, even with my face-sized iPhone in my hand, I go through life un-photographed.

Here’s the thing about running: we’re always in motion. I’ve found that it’s hard to capture the essence of the sport in a photograph. It’s hard to capture the human breath in a picture, or the heartbeat.

Here’s the thing about words: I use them, a lot. I like the way they swirl together and drift apart, the way I can untangle and rethread them. I like to sew sounds together, to paint stories.

But how do we tell a story without words? How do I capture myself running through life with my lips sealed and eyes open? How do I tell a story in pictures? I’ve never been a photographer, but I am a writer. Now I’m starting to think I can be both.

When you Google “How to Write a Photo Essay” different links come up. However, most of them don’t use the word “write” at all. The headlines use words like “create” or “make”. But I’m determined to WRITE this. I’m determined to use pictures to tell a story, to untangle and weave, to evoke and illustrate. And I’m trying to write about running. I think I want to tell my story, or more broadly, our story, the story of my family and my team, the story of why we do what we do. It’s the most brutal of moments to capture, the most raw. The most human act, instinctual and painful and freeing.

Lynsey Mattingly of digital-photography-school.com wrote what I found most inspiring throughout my internet search: “As a photographer, you are a storyteller. The nouns are your subject matter; the verbs are the color and contrast that keep the story moving. A cast of characters all working together to get your point across. Instead of proper grammar, you ensure proper exposure. Instead of spelling errors, you watch for tack-sharp focus. For those times when the story is especially important and meaningful, or for when one image doesn’t say it all, there is the photographic essay.”

How To Write an Investigation Essay

I have decided to take a college essay about what running means to me and turn it into an experiment for stage 2: a test of how running affects me and relates to various realms of my life, from my mood to writing to my outlook and general happiness. I want to reconnect with my body and mind through this experiment by challenging myself to run a little more for seven days straight, probably going from 1 to 7 miles. Through this experiment, I expect to find old feelings reemerge: nostalgia, an ache in the calves, frustration when I don’t feel as strong as I might like to, relief. I will set up a journal format and answer several specific pre-written questions each day along with free writing. I want to investigate what running means to me on a physical, spiritual, historical and deeply personal level, and connect that back to a larger idea of why people run and what the physical act, sport and cultural relevance of running says about us in the world.

How to Write An Investigation Essay

         Last semester in my English 325 class, I was tasked with writing a so-called “Investigation” essay. After reading several experimental essays, like one by Ann Hodgman where she tries eating different types of dog food and reflects on our relationship with our pets, and one by George Plimpton about pressure and talent while briefly playing in the New York Philharmonic, I still could not come up with an experiment of my own that felt profound.

What did I want to test about my world? What questions lay unanswered before me? I couldn’t figure it out.

Long story short, I sort of copped out and wrote about college parties — which wasn’t really an investigation at all. Meanwhile, during our peer review workshops, it occurred to me how to conduct an experiment. I could investigate running. I could test how it places me into a greater family, local and world community. I could question what it does to my body.

Here is how to write an investigation essay, courtesy of my rubric from 325, and the internet:

From my 325 rubric, courtesy of Patricia Khleif:

“Your experiment need not be quite so elaborate as those of the published authors. As long as your experiment is safe, legal, and feasible within the timeframe and constraints of the class, you have a lot of room to explore.”

Keywords: Safe, legal and feasible. Make sure your experiment can occur without major consequences including harm to yourself, harm to others, prison time, a million dollar budget, etc. Sometimes the riskiest experiments seem exciting, but realistically you can make a small change in your life and see big results — minus the risk of jail time or a hospital visit.

“This essay, then, ”integrates the personal with the journalistic:
each writer has a distinctive voice and presence, along with a question that clearly preoccupies him, as he explores a broader social or cultural phenomenon.”

While you investigate this subject on a personal level, in terms of writing, it is important to weave two types of voice together. There is a poet in me, and a journalist in me. The cross product of this is often the personal essay, this time the experiment. I seek to place myself in a greater social picture while also focusing on the nuances of my own actions and thoughts.

From the article “What makes a successful personal experiment” by Matthew Cornell:

“Taking action. Finally, each experiment is a manifestation of personal empowerment, which is a major success factor in life. While health comes to mind (do difficult patients have better results?), I think generally the more we take charge of our lives, the closer we get to happiness”.

Designing for surprise. If the product of your experiment was not very surprising, then maybe you should question your choice of what you tried. Exciting experiments probe the unknown, which ideally means novelty is in store. Fill in the blank: “If you’re not surprised at the end of your experiment, then __.”

In terms of personal experimentation in general, Cornell says it is important to take charge of our lives, literally by taking action. This is required in an experiment. Instead of sitting at our computers and musing, we must do something and then sit at our computers and muse. It is important to generate content by actually setting guidelines for yourself and completing them, even if they must vary a little due to circumstance, which you should include in your explanation of your experiment.

Cornell also says to design for surprise. Like any and all experiments, it is important to write a hypothesis before hand to imagine what might happen. But if you already know what is going to happen, what is the point? Set yourself up to be surprised, try something new, go the extra mile (ha ha get it). If you don’t walk away with a new perspective on anything then the musing will be difficult.

From Wikipedia page on self-experimentation: 

“Examples in classic fiction include the tales of The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In each case the scientist’s unorthodox theories lead to permanent change and ultimately to self-destruction.”

Re: safe, legal, and feasible. But even so, testing things out can be scary. I personally hate change. So listen to yourself and take it slow; no need to uproot everything you’ve known in a day and completely alter your life.

From the article “4 Ways to Mix up your running routine” by Jeff Galloway:

“Get off autopilot.”

This applies to running and to life.

intro: posting on blogs is scary

1. Listen
I’d say I’m a listener over a talker, and a writer over either.

2. gratitude

3. Words are dope

4. Patience is difficult and awesome

5. “Awesome” is probably an unprofessional adjective. So is “dope”. 

6. Speaking of professional, I need help with my LinkedIn so feel free to help me out.

7. Mistakes

I spend a lot of time editing mistakes at the Daily but I make a lot of them

8. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

9. fresh water beaches 

michigan girl through and through

10. Say sorry 

11. Be curious

12. Sweatpants never go out of style. Neither do libraries

13. It’s okay to be an outfit-repeater

14. Learn 
Chess, how to french braid, how to write dialogue, waterskiing