Thinking Like a Visual Storyteller: Connecting

Yesterday I shared a story that I worked on with the Southern Durham Football team. It was an in-depth look into their season. For four months, the team allowed me to be present at every moment. They trusted me - for which I will forever be grateful.

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

How did this come about? As visual storytellers, how do we make this connection, gain this trust, and tell the story to the best of our abilities?

Though it varies by story, the one common factor is being human.

Let me explain.

My favorite quote throughout my time as a photojournalism student at Syracuse University says:

“We tell stories of people - not ‘subjects.’ Honor their humanity. Our language sets the tone.”

I think it’s very important to always keep this in mind because this is the level at which we connect with those whom we are fortunate to photograph. It is not a photographer-subject relationship but a human one. We gain trust by being genuine, listening, being present, and by truly caring about the story.

Telling these stories is a collaborative process. Explaining this is a good way of building these relationships. Don’t take control of a story that isn’t yours. You’re simply helping share this narrative with your storytelling ability. Ask the people you are photographing “what do you think your story is?” and be prepared for the answer. Chances are it might not be what you thought it was - it’s much more meaningful.

Be respectful and feel situations out. Go with your gut instinct. Sometimes the best move is to put your camera down and be present. This is still hard one for me too, because I don’t want to miss a frame. But when the situation calls for you to be present and you are, this goes along way in the trust you are building. Being present and asking questions is good way of making images - even though you are not pressing the shutter button - because you will be constantly learning about the person and the different layers to their story.

Once the story is complete, maintain that relationship. Whether that’s through social media, mail, text messages, etc. These are human beings that entrusted you, allowed you into their lives, and shared with you. Don’t take this for granted. Honor those relationships.

Even if you’re not a visual storyteller, I would challenge you to start thinking about the relationships you create and how you honor them. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we connect not as subjects-photographers but as humans. Meet new people, ask questions, listen, and most importantly, be genuine and care.

Care.

Listen.

Be Genuine.

Be Present.

Be Respectful.

Honor the Relationship.

The Opportunity

In August 2018, the Southern Durham Spartans welcomed me to photograph their brotherhood. I documented their season: from the joyful moments to the lowest points where they had to regroup and be ready for the next challenge. During my time with this team, these young men taught me about resiliency. They were always up for the challenge, they never gave up on each other, and they always found a way to bounce back when games didn’t go their way.

Though the season didn’t end how they would’ve liked, they made sure to take advantage of all of the opportunities being part of this team offered.

Thank you to all the players and coaches for allowing me to be a part of the journey.

Grit

Often times in school we're told not to quote Wikipedia, but look at this amazing definition it has for the word "grit:"

"Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective."

I still don't know where this series is going, but I think I've found a preliminary name for it. Enjoy part two of this running set of images!