During my presentation at the Digital Storytelling Festival in Cardiff, I wanted to get the audience thinking about collaborative media production as a form of inquiry. I focused on the challenges of “visualizing voice” in digital storytelling. Drawing from my research with undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Ireland, I discussed how, due to vulnerable circumstances, several storytellers could not be physically visible in their stories. Other participants had limited family photos. From these challenges a collaborative visual ethnographic practice emerged. In this practice, storytellers crafted their experiences into story over an extended period of time (4-6 months) and created evocative images. In so doing, they documented their daily lives, literally “objectified” a lived experience, and critically engaged in the research process. To get the audience thinking about this inquiry process, I played audio clips from two stories and asked folks to consider the sensory responses and possible images for each. Next, I shared the photographs that research participants had created–their drafts and final versions–and discussed how, as media practitioners, participants developed a critical understanding of images not merely as a means to illustrate a story, but rather as a catalyst for exploring and documenting experience, memory and place. I then screened the two final digital stories. As a way of engaging the audience as listeners, at the end of each story, I asked people to write a post card reply to the storytellers. During the Q & A, audience members asked compelling questions about pedagogy, longitudinal vs. intensive 1-5-day workshops, reception and distribution of the stories, and ethical concerns, such as how to get beyond the “tokenisitic” use of stories.
Keynote speakers at the festival included Annie Correal from Cowbird, Natasha Armstrong from Historypin and Joe Lambert from the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS). Annie Correal shared how her experience as a journalist, and the international response to her story about the kidnapping of her father, led to her passion for “humanizing the web.” Through Cowbird’s elegant storytelling platform, stories have a life online. Natasha Armstrong directed a tour de force through their interactive website, which integrates stories and photographs, families and neighborhoods across generations and locales. Finally, Joe Lambert confirmed an on-going commitment to the importance and power of listening. He screened several stories from workshops including a beautifully crafted story that was edited on, and streamed from an iPhone. When I later learned more about the workshop process and how these iPhone stories were created, I began to wonder if that story marked a watershed moment for the ways in which we will be facilitating digital storytelling workshops from now on. Thus far, the dominant paradigm has been for storytellers to start with the written story. Starting with a written script has most often lead to an illustrative engagement with the visual, rather than any deep exploration of visual storytelling methods through an image making practice. In contrast, that iPhone story seemingly began with the image making process first, with the storyteller visually exploring her environment and then bringing those images into the storytelling circle. Workshop participants developing stories in relation to images found through the lens of an iPhone marks a paradigm shift, one provoked by the introduction of a new tool.