In Chapter 2 from Mapping Memories, the author discusses the use of photo stories by refugees in Canada to share their journeys with others in the group. Refugees worked together to create picture sequences that told stories of their personal struggles, many which reflected themes of “leaving home, arrival, finding shelter, memories from home, hope and integrating” (23). The author notes that these photos “seemed to move the group to a new place of intimacy” by allowing them to share their struggles with others who had encountered similar circumstances (23). A particularly powerful picture was of a man clinging to the jacket his wife gave him before he left her behind to pursue a job in Canada and send the money back to his family. I thought this was a particularly powerful exercise because it allowed the men and women to frame their own stories through the camera and transcend language barriers.   

These pictures were then presented without context in book form to teachers at workshops in Quebec. The teachers thought the books were particularly thought provoking, and wanted to know the context of the pictures. The authors of this chapter recognize that including context may have been helpful in giving people a clearer idea of the real stories behind the pictures, but they also acknowledged that without context viewers made interesting assumptions. The photo stories made me think about the power of photos and the written word to portray certain people’s emotions and experiences in very different ways.  

Do you think that the photos of the refugees would have been more powerful with the addition of added context? Or is there a certain power in letting images speak for themselves?  

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4 responses »

  1. cmaas3882 says:

    I appreciate that they let the pictures speak for themselves because like the authors I think value is added to the discussion by letting people make their own assumptions. That said, I think it would be even more valuable to provide context after those assumptions have been made so they can think critically about their assumptions and the message of the photos.

    • mgoldman3935 says:

      I also appreciate letting the pictures speak for themselves. I think requiring the brain to work to figure out the context increases their power, and encourages deep thought about their underlying messages

  2. ssingh6069 says:

    I think that pictures really speak for themselves most of the time, burdening them with words detracts from their power, if there are no words to accompany a photograph the viewer is able to really look at the photograph, rather than glance at it and then focus on the words instead.

  3. cvurlumi3815 says:

    Attaching words to an image instantly exposes the story of the photo and takes away the numerous possibilities of the imagination. As others have already stated leaving the photos wordless allows the viewer to analyze the photos for themselves and figure out the situation and think about the message.

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