storytelling, time and grit

storytelling, time and grit

How long does it take to tell a story that makes an impact?

Susan B. Anthony’s speaking tour in 1873 in support of women’s voting rights brought her to 50 towns and villages in upstate New York, where she repeatedly delivered a 533-word speech calling for women’s rights to the suffrage.

In the 90-minute documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” director David Gelb was able to display the sushi master’s life, passion, and perfection in such a powerful way that we connected with someone we otherwise may have never known or noticed.

With a 110-character tweet and popular Facebook page, online activist and former Google executive Wael Ghonim (@Ghonim) was launched to the forefront of Egypt’s anti-government movement.

And in one instant, photographer Marc Riboud captured the 1960s struggles of war and peace in the iconic photograph “La Jeune Fille a la Fleur.”

We all have a story to tell and now there are stages that encourage every person to bring their own story to life…in five minutes.

In May, I attended the 27th session of Ignite Seattle. Ignite is an event that brings together local storytellers and gives them each five minutes to share 20 slides that flip through automatically every 15 seconds. I heard stories about harvesting bugs for people to eat, drawing comics and saving the world, mastering balance on a unicycle, connecting with kids through video games, the human experience of live-translated calls, the power of lone travel, and an experiment in saying “Yes” for 30 days.

As I listened, I thought about how storytelling takes true grit. It takes passion and powerful motivation, and it requires a continued sense of exploration. Storytelling is about being curious and sometimes getting into trouble. Particularly in the social issue space, it’s important to be disruptive and provocative without being irresponsible. Storytelling is about creating an emotional connection. It’s about moving people to laugh, cry, smile or to remind them how to savor life. Good stories impart some sort of wisdom that empowers people to think—to think differently, think deeper, or think at all. Stories are kept in words, images, digital manifestations, film reels, and 140-character tweets. They are spoken, sung, written, filmed, recorded, photographed, painted, and designed. Stories can be told in five minutes, they can be told in two hours, and some stories never end. This is, ultimately, the magic of storytelling.

powerful photography for social change

powerful photography for social change

Using documentary photography to inspire positive change in attitudes, behavior, and policy? That’s radical.

As a (relative) newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life.

Photography speaks to people differently, and often a simple image isn’t simply an image. As a photographer I’ve always been enamored with the art form and the myriad ways it can be used to improve the world by mobilizing a community to make a change, or even just brighten someone’s day.

Blue Earth Alliance sponsors artists and works to ensure photographers and filmmakers around the world are given a stage to present their work on critical environmental and social issues. They have helped raise almost a million dollars through membership donations, and require all sponsored work to be educational or informational in some capacity. The Alliance has focused its efforts on issues like global warming and the Artic, but also issues that are sometimes outside of the scope of the mainstream media, such as racism in the farming community, grandmothers in AIDS-ravaged Africa, and the loss of open space in Los Angeles.

Many of the artists who have worked with the Alliance have gone on to win accolades, be featured in galleries, publish books, and receive grants. One such artist—Seattle-based Daniel Beltrá—is currently a featured artist and was the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year for the Natural History Museum. Daniel Beltrá’s newest project, Our Warming World, “asks us to consider the landscape as a place we have altered, all while striving to coexist within the natural world.” According to Beltrá, “rather than merely recording the changes in the environment, this body of work seeks to enhance our awareness of the intersection of nature’s power and fragility, asking us to reconsider our view of the planet and how we inhabit it.”

Also currently featured is Amazon Headwaters by Bruce Farnsworth, which highlights small groups of residents across the upper Amazon region leading cutting-edge programs in research, conservation, education, and sustainable communities. The final featured project is The Truth Told Project by Sarah Fretwell, which highlights the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including daily realities and the rampant sexual violence.

Later in 2014, Blue Earth Alliance will host Collaborations for Cause, a two-day conference in Seattle for nonprofits, photographers, change-makers, and communications professionals. The conference will cover the collaborative future of storytelling and will feature panel discussions, case studies, and breakout sessions. Keep an eye on their news page for more details in the coming months.

Want to learn more about Blue Earth Alliance? Like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, learn more about their featured projects, read their blog, and be sure not to miss them on Instagram.

Did you miss our other Radical Locals features? Read more about Project Violet, Seattle’s Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, the Seal Sitters, and Undriving.

Image by Daniel Beltrá from his new book SPILL.