How Photography Made Me a Better Writer

So many cameras!

A Photographic Life

I grew up around cameras, not that I really did much picture taking back then. In fact, my dad was such an avid photographer, I soon grew annoyed with having a camera stuck in my face at every turn. There are probably hundreds of photos of my younger self frowning, no, scowling into the camera. But at some point, I became so embarrassed by these unattractive images of myself shown at family gatherings—yes, we did the whole slide show thing—that I realized ultimately, it was much more flattering to smile rather than make the face of doom and gloom.

Dad, the master photographer.
Dad in Ireland

Beloved Minolta.

Photography was a big part of my life. No family trip was ever complete without a camera and lots of picture taking. Everyone had a camera, even me although I didn’t use it back then. Most of Dad’s images were developed as slides so that we could view everything on the “big screen.”  I finally got into photography myself in my twenties, back when you still needed to learn to develop negatives which was a lot of fun, but like everything else, I didn’t have much time for it. Then cell phones with cameras came along, and as much as Dad scoffed at the concept of a cellphone being a “real” camera, it gave me a chance to take pictures anytime and anywhere I wanted.

A Linear Correlation

My current camera.

The linear correlation between the images I shot and my writing first occurred to me quite a while ago. Most of the time, I took pictures while out for a run. Something would catch my eye, and I’d stop for a quick shot. In the beginning, I would shoot the gorgeous sunrises or the rich purple of the morning glories against the backdrop of the shifting colors of the Atlantic. But eventually, I began taking pictures of people. I’d imagine the scenario, and as I would run, all sorts of thoughts would drift through my mind. The urge to capture their story was so strong, I’d have to stop and pause my watch to type some accompanying notes into my phone.

Writing and Photography

The relationship between my writing and photography was especially apparent while traveling. Wanting to remember each and every detail about every stop we made in London, Ireland, France, Greece, and more, I took a lot of notes, but I found that the images I collected were often a more efficient recorder of events than what I had written. They tended to recall scenes in ways my scattered notes were sometimes unable to and allowed me to write about things I might have otherwise forgotten.Imagine the scenario.

I became so enamored of this process and found it so useful when writing my book, The Memory Keeper: a Memoir on Life, Love, and Travel, that I decided to illustrate it by including the images. This is not something I recommend, by the way, as the formatting was a complete nightmare. The other amazing benefit to using photography as a muse is that I find that sometimes the story is already there in the image. Sometimes, the image gives me words, a story out of nowhere. My brother is an excellent photographer as is my daughter, the apple and the tree and all that. They are all much more talented than I am, but I believe they are shooting for the love of the process whereas I am shooting in search of a story.  The camera has never let me down.


I’ll leave you with this quote from the movie Kodachrome—I highly recommend it—spoken by Ed Harris:

“We’re all so frightened by time, the way it moves on and the way things disappear. That’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time, to commit moments to eternity.” In an essay entitled “What to do in Oia,” I wrote, “We stop to lean over the wall and stare out over the blue of the water barely discernable from the blue of the sky. We try not to move. We try not to breathe. We try to stop the earth from spinning on its axis.” In that moment, forever preserved, time stopped, the words, image, and memory living forever.

Telling the story.
Oia, Greece

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