Memoir and Photography: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

September 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Memoir Space

Morning Latte © 2010 Bo Mackison

Mention “writing your memoir” and most people think about recording memories, recalling events and names in the past, even researching distant history.  But sometimes capturing the present is just as important as remembering the past.

When you document the present, you can both compare the present to past years and tuck today’s stories away to wait for your present to become your past.

This month’s project combines photography and writing, and focuses on the present moment, on just this one day in your life.


Any camera will work fine. You can use your regular camera or a cell phone camera. You need only shoot a couple dozen shots so if you don’t own a camera, an inexpensive disposable camera which can be purchased at a dollar store works fine.

So grab a camera and give the project a try. You’ll enjoy both the process and the results.


Pick a day this month when you have several items on your to-do list, but are not over-extended. You want to be busy enough to be able to document the variety in your day, but not so busy that pausing for photographs puts you over the top on your stress meter.

If you like following a schedule, set your phone or watch alarm for every hour or two, and take a photograph of what you are doing or where you are when the alarm sounds. If you’d rather just shoot when inspired, give that a go.

Here are a few examples: at nine o’clock in the morning, you are working on a sewing project. You have material and patterns and sketches all over your workspace. Take a photo of your work.

Perhaps at eleven o’clock, while you are running errands, the munchies strike and you stop at Pop’s Vegan Drive-Thru for a garden burger and an apple fizzy. Take a shot of the drive-thru’s sign or the menu.  Take another photo of your lunch.

In the afternoon, you pick up the kids up from football practice. Take a photo of the jumble of kids sprawled on the ground after that last scrimmage. Or take a photo of your kid kicking his shoe in the dirt or doing somersaults in the grassy field instead of watching the ball heading in his direction.

Variations on a Pond © 2010 Bo Mackison

In the evening, take a photograph during your after-dinner walk around the neighborhood or on a stroll through your favorite park. Capture details that you might not otherwise remember.

Add a snapshot of the headlines from the front page of the local newspaper or magazine you are reading to help pinpoint not only the date, but what was also taking place in the community.


The second option encourages you to take a photo whenever you come across a “favorite” in your day — no schedule, just serendipity.

Take a photo of the clothes in your closet. Take a photo of your favorite comfort outfit.  And while you are rummaging in your closet, pull out your favorite dressy dress, your grungiest sweats, your reddest blouse, and the robe you still wear that you bought to wear your freshman year in college. Your favorite clothes are you. Take photos. Write a few notes, too. For example, why do you love your old robe so much? How do you feel when you wear your dressiest dress?

Summer Books @ 2010 Bo Mackison

Take a photo of the your current collection of favorite books. Or take a photo of the books you own that were written by a favorite author. What makes this author special? Why are you attracted to his or her books? Is it the topic, the location, the genre, the authors way with words?

Take a photo of your bed made up with your favorite sheets, blankets, quilts. What makes your bed special? Do you sleep under quilts hand sewn by your great-aunt? Are your pillow cases scented with lavender? Do you love the feel of silk sheets or down comforters?

Take a photo of the most beloved piece of art you own. Stop for a few minutes and write down why it is a favorite. How long have you owned it? Who is the artist? Was it an impulse buy from a local artist or a splurge for which you carefully budgeted?

Summer Breakfast at the Fair © 2010 Bo Mackison

Take a photo of a favorite meal. What made it special? Was it the special ingredients? The way it was prepared? The cook who made it just perfect?

Take a photograph of the TV screen while you are watching your favorite show. If possible, have someone take a photo of you watching your favorite show. Why do you like this particular television show?How do like to watch TV? With your feet propped up, totally relaxed? In your pajamas, at the very end of the day? With a book in your hand or a computer on your lap?

How many more favorites can you think of to photograph? A collection? A favorite flower in your garden? A favorite perfume?


Don’t just store your photos on your camera or cell phone or leave them in a file on your computer. Print them. Yes, get these photos printed. You want to study these photos. You want to hold them in your hands. You want these photos available, for they are inspiration photographs. They are memoir-photographs!

Before you store your printed photographs, take a few minutes to label them with place and time. Jot down a few words about what is happening in the photographs, or what you were thinking while you drank that apple fizzy or why you chose your favorite piece of art.

Put the photographs and their annotations in your memoir container. Then they will be there, ready and waiting, when you are inspired to write about this time in your life. When you are ready, elements in the photos will tickle your memory and provide rich details for your writing.

And perhaps you will have a photograph in your stash that inspires you to write the proverbial one thousand words, words that would never have been recorded without the inspiration from a “memoir-photo” taken on an ordinary day in your life.

Bo Mackison is a writer and photographer, and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She posts a photograph on her blog nearly every day, usually an abstract botanical or a landscape, and muses about life in the Midwest. She also loves to travel and spends inordinate amounts of time planning her next itinerary.


7 Responses to “Memoir and Photography: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?”
  1. Bo, I love this! And I would never have thought to document my life, my day, my favourites (Aussie spelling here…) in this way. And print them out? Hmm… I definitely need to get better at that. I have a feeling my kids would get enthusiastic about this – they’d have fun and make a game of it.

    I am so loving the inspiration from this series, Bo! Just beautiful…

    BTW, love the Variations on a Pond pic – how very Monet of you!

  2. I love this and I”m going to do it. I may even post on my blog.I’ll link back if I do!

  3. Sue Henry says:

    Ah…such a wonderful inspiration to undertake such a simple concept. Your post has me mulling over a few ideas…

    Thanks Bo! And — I love the accompanying images, especially “Variations on a Pond.”

  4. Bo Mackison says:

    Tess, hope you will send us a link if you post photos of your favorites on your blog. I’d love to see your “memoir project.”

  5. Bo Mackison says:

    Sue, I find that the hardest part of doing one of these projects is getting started. Once I’m into it, I don’t want to stop.

  6. Bo Mackison says:

    Karen, you can always get a cheapie disposable camera and have your local photo place print them out for a few bucks. It doesn’t have to be high tech at all. Of course,if your kids are like my kids, they could do the printing for you in a sec.