Sunday, August 18, 2013

Paris Through a Camera Lens – Story Prompt

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories a photograph can tell. Why take that picture? Why not aim a few inches to the left? What would happen if you zoomed in? Took a panoramic view? Shot from below? Who do we include in our photos? Who do we ignore? How do we edit the images – do we crop out unnecessary detail and how do we decide what’s important to keep? How do we present the images to craft a linear understanding of time and place? Do we edit for theme, style, humor? I guess it’s no surprise that these questions perk along in my brain. Photography is just another form of storytelling, and I’m a storyteller.

What if you didn’t know the story behind the image? What if the story you’d always thought was true turned out to be a fantasy? I thought for YEARS that my uncle had two little girls that “we just didn’t talk about” since his first marriage ended in divorce. YEARS. Because I’d seen a photograph of him with these two kids and somehow cobbled together a story that didn’t really make sense (we’re not the kind of family to shun children, for goodness’ sake). But to my young mind it made enough sense that I didn’t question it until I was a young adult. Turns out the girls were his nieces by marriage and when the marriage ended, so did that relationship. Quite an elaborate fantasy to build on the basis of a single photo seen once as a youngster.

At the end of July, my dad and I traveled to Paris for a few days. It was a delightful trip (if way too short). Between us, we took 244 photographs. All those moments of choice – this window display, not that one. This vista from this angle. This monument, this slice of life moment, this image bound in pixels forever and ever, amen.

It got me thinking.   

1)   What if that photo of a daughter and her father toasting their time together in Paris was actually documentation of a nefarious scientist and her trusty lab manager celebrating their newest plot to take over the world? (Taken in the courtyard of the Hotel Athene)   

2)   What if this swanky hotel restaurant was the rendezvous location of their annual SPECTRE board meeting (instead of just a really great place to have Sunday brunch; The Royal  Monceau Hotel). Heck, they have an image of Sean Connery on the wall. Could James Bond be far behind?  

3)   What if their evil plan included syphoning off all the champagne in the world, storing it in the Eiffel Tower and then making people pay even more exorbitant prices for a bit of bubbly than we already do? One meeellion Euros anyone?  

4)   What if, in addition to stealing the world’s champagne reserves, this mad scientist took a page out of Dr. Frankenstein’s diary, but instead of reanimating human corpses, she decided dinosaurs were her thing. Dinosaurs painted gold, with a thing for Louis Vuitton (Look closely at Dino's mouth.). I think I like where this is going… 

5)   What if, to appease this crazy smart evil, yet charismatic seductive and alluring scientist, the powers that be offered her ownership of Versailles and a never ending supply of Veuve Cliquot?  

6)   I think the scientist said yes, fell in love with her new home – and the head gardener – and lived happily ever after.

What about you? Have you ever made up a story to fit what you think you’re seeing in an image? Was it as extreme as two missing cousins? Does looking at photos give you story inspiration? 


  1. What a gorgeous time with pictures to prove it! And how wonderful that you went with your Dad! Yes, I make up stories all the time to fit what I see...and your piece is a great reminder to not only 'smell the roses' but look at them! Thanks Keely for what felt like a little mini-vacation. Now get back to work winning writing prizes!

  2. Hi Emelle! It really was a lovely trip and I'm so thankful my dad and I got to spend the time together. We had loads of fun. But you're right - it's time to get back to butt in chair, fingers on keyboard!

  3. Keely ~ What a fun, creative post! Thanks so much for sharing your Paris pictures with us.

    Yes, photos are absolutely inspiring to me. I've always loved the stories still photography tells, and the room the medium allows for the give-and-take interaction and interpretation of viewers. Which is what art is all about, right?

    I've always been fascinated with photography & took classes in high school--one day I'll get back to it. I love that the stories we find in photographs often tell us as much about ourselves as about the characters/subjects within the frame/shot.

    Again, loved the post. Thanks again for sharing your adventure with us! So much fun. ;0)

  4. Hi Keely,
    This was so fun -- almost as fun as your actual trip. (Well, okay, nothing would be that much fun--what a cool vacation.) I love photos--I take as many as it sounds like you do. The funny thing about mine are, I love scenery pics. I never know what to do with the people around me. I do love window display, though, and now I just want to go back and write stories about the last bunch I took! Thanks for the wonderful visit to Paris AND for the brain-stretching exercise!

  5. Keely, I have to say that I've never made up stories for photos. But why haven't I? This is such a fun idea! I'm going to do this all the time now! Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Hiya Mackenzie! Isn't that the beauty of photography? The adventure doesn't have to stop with "real life." Would love to see some of your work one day!!

    Hi Liz!!I always wonder if window displays are a direct descendent of still life painting? Pulling random stuff together and making it look good?

    Jacqui - Where do our story ideas come from is, I think, at the heart of this. For some it's an article in a magazine, a snippet of overheard conversation, or...a picture of a daughter and her dad sharing a toast. All roads lead to Rome (Paris?), yet not all roads are the Autobahn. Or something like that!

  7. Love this, Keely! Not only is it fun to see you enjoying Paris with a mysterious stranger (Don't tell your dad I said that!), it's fun to think about photos as a way to boost creative writing skills!

    I confess I sometimes find a photo after the fact. I mean, I know what that creepy, boarding house my protagonist has to enter looks like. But then when I'm out and about, I'll see a doorway or a window latch that makes me think, "Oh! That's how the boarding house window should work so the bad guys can dump the evidence!" So I snap a photo to remind myself of the details. And then I get busy on a rewrite. I hope it makes for richer world-building in my work! (And I kind of think it does!)

    I also follow some folks who tweet photos. Sometimes, I'll find one and I'll think, "That's it! That's what the get-away car in my WIP should look like!" I love to use photos to spur on creative writing.

    So, Keely, when can we expect a full-on Paris-set story from you? You know your crit partners would love to read it!