ScrapMoir How-To #33: Let Your Picture Library Tell the Story

by Bettyann Schmidt on June 30, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #102 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

by Bettyann Schmidt

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see. ~Dorothea Lange

A Memoir Writer’s Problem: When Stories Die

I’d written daily, accumulating over 20,000 words. I’d spent months researching, viewing and categorizing forms and documents, city directories and census pages, marriage records and death certificates. Now it was time to organize what I had and finish writing the stories.

And at that moment I simply ran out of vision.

The project stared back at me from my laptop computer, the yellow file folder mocking me with the same words echoing in my head, “I-told-you-so.” Just who did I think I was to have the talent to finish such a huge undertaking?

Have you been overwhelmed by this feeling?

I was tired. Burned out. I didn’t care. I wanted to archive the words and research on disk or flash drive and get it out of sight. 

The saddest place in the world is where I was at that moment.

Blueprint for a Memoir

Deciding to organize everything before archiving the project is what led to my breakthrough. I remembered the tool I’d created early on. It was tucked safely away on a flash drive.

A Help for Memoir Writers: My Digital Photo History

A bulging folder of every photo and scrapbook layout I’d scanned in, or copied online from relatives, or found in historic archives or libraries.

I’d dismantled my early scrapbooks and scanned everything into this folder. I copied my cousin’s Facebook albums of old pictures scanned from her mother’s old collection and moved them to this folder. The result was a complete family Memory Library.

This folder became the blueprint for writing the rest of my book and updating some already written stories with priceless visual detail.

I’d been so busy writing and researching that I’d just continued to stuff this photo file, not paying much attention to naming the photos or organizing them. What a treasure trove this turned out to be.

I spent the rest of the day organizing all of these pictures and giving them insightful  names, adding dates when I could. I made copies of some, cropped them to bring out facial features, personalities, background details.

What happened was a renewed outlook on my book. I found different viewpoints on some of the stories I’d written and, most important, I had the vision in place for the rest of the book.

Chapters started naming themselves as I clicked through my edited picture library. Scrapbook layouts materialized enough to make sketches and notes for the book’s pages.

I’m not a particularly verbose person. I think that’s why I like taking pictures… they speak for themselves. ~Jeb Dickerson,

Memoir Hint: Truth-Telling Visuals

Me and Kay

In the “Kay and Me” layout above, I didn’t know I had this photo. It was in an old album, created about ten years ago, on a page along with pictures of my grandfather’s farm, where I’d written a few words about living there when I was a young child. The bigger story didn’t show up on that page.

A photograph is memory in the raw. ~Carrie Latet

When my maternal grandmother died, Grandpa married a young woman, Elva, who was my mother’s age. Elva came with a child from a previous marriage, Kay. I’m not sure how old Kay was when they joined our family, but I do know she was a lot bigger than me, big enough to boss me around and try to hurt me. Kay had a mean streak in her. Elva went on to give birth to two sons after her marriage to Grandpa, and Kay was mean to them, just like she was to me or anyone smaller than her.

I’ve written about some of my experiences with Kay, but not all of them. When I examined the picture of Kay, with me off to the side, I began to feel those buried emotions all over again and the helplessness of a young bullied child. How alone that feels.

This past year, children and young adults who have been bullied by their peers has seen wide coverage in the news media. This public awareness may have played a part in unearthing my old memories of Kay. That time period is part of my family’s story. A photo of me and my tormenter adds spice and validity to this memory.

Memoir Hint: Point of View Changes

A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety. ~Ansel Adams

The layout above shows a picture of my cousin, MaryLou, along with some of our close cousins.  I was the first grandchild in the family, and MaryLou was the second. Her parents, Aunt Dot and Uncle Bill, started off their marriage in a rented house across the street on Clifton Avenue from Grandma. MaryLou was born there, and when she was old enough to play paper dolls, her passion, I was enlisted as her playmate.

I remember sitting on the flowered kitchen floor linoleum with my small toddler cousin when I was about eight years old cutting out yet another book of paper dolls with fashionable dresses and accessories. MaryLou and I played paper dolls for hours. Such a good memory.  I can still picture this scene in my memory.

Last year, on a visit home, MaryLou and I had some pictures taken together, and I knew I would combine that earlier memory with the present day and my still strong relationship with my younger cousin. This is called a “connection,” layout, using old photos from your Memory Library with images of another time period.

Making photo connections is a powerful tool for memoir writers in storytelling. These connections can only be made from a well-stocked library of vintage images and adding more recent pictures as you create them.  This will be your Photo Library, from which you will always have connection material  for fresh stories that will never run out. I’m glad I digitized my Photo Library because now it’s serving a whole new purpose beyond creating scrapbook album layouts. I’m able to make computerized connections as I write.

The ticket to using this tool is knowing where your pictures are. This means having a memory flashback and knowing exactly where a photo is stored that adds a visual to that memory. You will never be sorry you took the time to do this.

A photograph is like the recipe – a memory of the finished dish. ~Carrie Latet

Please leave a comment below. I love them. How do you use pictures in your writing? Do you have any special way of organizing those images? Let us know any good tips you might have.

And be sure, if you haven’t yet, to download a free copy of my e-book here on Women’s Memoirs: ScrapMoir: 7 Steps to Combining Your Photos, Your Memories, Your Stories.

Bettyann Schmidt
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You may also be interested in Bettyann Schmidt’s article on:

ScrapMoir How-To #1: Memoir Writing with Pictures

ScrapMoir How-To #2: Writing Your Memoir Stories with Photos — Organization is Key


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