Monday, June 24, 2013

Making the Point With Photographs

 Good Civic Engagement Requires 
All us Us Working Together, 2012

(Click on images to see larger)

Those of us who are addicted to photography take pictures for all kinds of reasons. We take pictures a lot of the time for reasons we can’t explain. Every now and then I’ll photograph something simply because the scene or the moment captures my fancy long enough for me to consciously think about saving it in a photograph it. In this age of digital photography, pictures cost you nothing but your time. So why not photograph first and ask questions later?
Over the years I’ve built up quite a collection of these stray images that don’t belong in any collection or series. They’re little one-out stories.
Recently a friend and I were asked to make a presentation about civic engagement to an audience of hundred or so of Virginia’s municipal managers. They’re a generally savvy bunch of people of all ages and levels of experience. They come from big cities, small towns and rural counties.
To be honest, my first inclination was to use just a few PowerPoint slides to affirm the big points of our presentation. I’m a big fan of story telling as a presentation technique. Telling our audience about real-world examples of how good civic engagement yields big returns for local governments has a lot more meaning that a bunch of slides. 
As Logical as a Chair Talking to a Fence, 2012
It was my co-presenter who suggested that I bring some of my own photographs into our presentation. He thinks more of my photography than I suspect I deserve. But I liked the idea of juicing up the show with something other than even just a few dull text slides. And I’m embarrassed to admit that it didn’t occur to me first that a single photograph can convey more of story, more emotion and more than my blabbering and preachy words.
But what to use?
My friend thought I’d show a lot of pretty pictures from across Virginia. That seemed too much like vanity to me because the pictures wouldn’t do much to advance our message about civic engagement.
Then I realized that I have this extensive body of stray photographic images that just might help out here. Before the late night hour and fatigue stopped me from looking, I’d turned the presentation into a series of a hundred or so photographic metaphors.
Our presentation was the last in an intensive three-day conference. It was held at an oceanfront hotel. I thought for sure that by this point in the schedule many of the people would have ducked out to play on the beach or in the surf. But low and behold we ended up with a giant ballroom full of fully wide-awake people. They asked questions when the photos provoked them. They laughed when the photos made a point humorously. They hung in for more than ninety minutes. They applauded wildly at the end.
I don’t know if it was our message or the pictures. But I know from their reaction that by using the photographs we informed, influenced and entertained, and that in doing so we just might have achieved our goal of compelling our audience of municipal leaders re-think the way public policy decisions are made.
How Interested People Think Local Governments
Are in Listening to Them, 2010