Every Picture Tells A Story: Personal Photos for Illustration

November 2, 2017 DWilbrink

Personal photos can be the best illustrations for your message.

Personal photographs for illustration can get attention and deliver the richness of your message.

Memoir illustration for Moose Lodge storyMemory brings images to mind, just as developing fluid makes an image on photographic paper become visible. Another wash, and the image is “fixed” to paper. The correct personal image “fixed” to your writing can deliver the message with extra, memorable power. A picture taken at my 1994 wedding shows a happy bride – in contrast to the story of the wedding, and the marriage, which lasted only three years. Writing my memoir will tell more, but here is a vignette among several about the wedding (with the names changed). As you’ll see in the following photos, the right photograph can make or break your story. This photo of the happy bride only helps take you back to the day when…

“You did what?” gasped my fiancée. I repeated patiently, “I invited Teresa, my co-worker who welcomed me when I moved to Columbus (Georgia), to our wedding and reception.” Richard was turning pale. “But it’s at the Moose Lodge in Phenix City, Alabama. We don’t allow blacks there!” It was my turn to gasp. I had never seen a black person at the Moose Lodge or in its bar, though Richard’s family had invited us there many times. I was so naïve it had never dawned on me to ask why.

 “That’s just too bad,” I managed to say, “I also invited our state representative, a black civil rights attorney who is a friend from my second job in Columbus!”

There was no way I would un-invite these people. We turned to the matriarch of Richard’s family for help. My future mother-in-law was also President of the Moosettes. She cut an imposing figure and could be quite vindictive. So when my friends arrived, Mom stood at the door, welcomed them, and walked them in to a seat at her own table. Not a negative word was said. I guess you could say we integrated the Phenix City Moose Lodge that day, if only for a day…

Personal photos don't have to be persons!

Memoir about urban chickens by Deborah WilbrinkA very different photo is used to illustrate the book I am writing for children, The Chickens of Westcrest Drive. I photographed the urban chicken movement taking hold across the street from our home in south Nashville, and became a part of it. The book will explore the power and strategies of local activism, too. Chicken laws changed!

You know the impact of a personal photo. You show one on your phone, on Facebook, or in your scrapbook, and wait for the reaction. But where was the story? Add the where, when and who of that photo, and you have placed your story in a setting, just like that of a story or a novel. Fleshing out your story is another skill, but a good photo will set up the story and allow you to add to it.

Whether writing a book or making a meme or poster, your illustration should punch up the message. Sometimes, a photo makes the story. In my book editing and publishing work with authors, I have seen some unusual photos used effectively:

  • Joe B. Chapman, Jr. signed this cross before it was raised at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Joe sold his automobile dealership in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and became a minister. He and his wife, Dixie, tell the story in faith of finding Joe’s true vocation in his book, Let’s Try Again, © 2017.

Illustrating Mary Williams' memoir

  • The Hermitage Hotel hosted many milestone events in the life of Mary Binkley Williams, as she tells in her story, “My Wonderful Castle.” Mary was a child in 1929 when she first visited her uncle at the Hotel. The story was published in “Reflections from the Past, the Hermitage Hotel Historical Quarterly”, in 2017. It will be in her forthcoming memoir, My Cup Runneth Over. Photo © 2009 Mary Binkley Williams.

Gigi Goodall memoir

  • This picture of Gigi Goodall of Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, becomes especially poignant, when you know its story. The picture was taken at a temporary home in California. Do You Love Me? ©2013, tells her story of repeated abandonments by her parents, and her adult life spent helping many, many others to find a home.
Helped by the Hand of God by Joe Laws setting photo for memoir
  • This personal photograph for illustration was taken after the fact, to picture a key place and event in Held by the Hand of God by Joe Laws, ©2013. The shed and ladder play an important part in his story of a miraculous near-death experience and recovery. Joe also used his X-rays from Vanderbilt University Medical Center to illustrate a successful new procedure: titanium ribs!
Stops Along the Way by Mary Mallen
  • The cover photo for Mary Mallen’s memoir, Stops Along the Way, ©2014, shows her family on the road during the Great Depression years. Dad was a traveling salesman, and the family lived in a hand-built trailer pulled behind their car. Mary opened her own travel agency when she grew up, pioneering the concept of economy airline travel.

You can learn more about using your personal photographs for illustration in my upcoming class, “Use Photos to Tell Your Story” for Nashville Community Education. Participants will be bringing photos, and I can’t wait to see them and hear the accompanying stories! Look for my other NCE classes, “Time to Tell: Write Your Family History Now” and “Online Self-Publishing”.  Subscribe to my monthly e-letter, “Memoir Cafe”, and see samples of illustration in other personal history books at PerfectMemoirs.com 

All photos used by permission, c. publication dates of works cited, and property of attributed authors. All rights reserved.

“Every Picture Tells a Story, (Don’t It)?”

Rod Stewart, 1971 #1 Album

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“The Best Book is Your Own Story.”
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