Talking story about old photos

May 26, 2013

A few weeks ago, The Story featured a fascinating interview with Charlie Haughey, who had been an Army photographer in the Vietnam War. Dick Gordon talked with him about the 2000 photo negatives that Haughey stored away for 45 years before a friend helped him digitize the images.

“When we got to 1726 photographs, I took them home, put them in my computer and put them on a 2-second delay and watched them all. And I literally didn’t sleep for three days,” said Haughey. Most of the images he was seeing for the first time since he’d taken the photos of his fellow soldiers.

Haughey had shown a couple hundred of his images to a room full of professional photographers in Portland. They were struck by the photos, and his stories of who the soldiers were, what they were doing and what had become of them. They volunteered to help him exhibit his images.

It’s a really good interview, worth the 37 minutes to listen.

As I listened to the interview that night in April (I was doing the dishes, but remembering my college hands in the darkroom fixer, watching an image set on the paper), I thought about my grandfather’s photos, black-and-white images of family and hunting trips and road travel across the United States, which my cousin, Jeff Nolan, scanned for the launch of Zuiker Chronicles Online in July 2000.

But I also thought about my Talk Story narrative variety show. I started that about a year ago, and one of my goals of that was to invite friends on stage to tell stories about their photos: Karyn Traphagen, David Thomas and Mary Driebeek were some who shared images and memories. Listening to the Haughey interview, I wondered what it would be like to ask people in the community to dig into their photo albums and boxes of slides, to find an image 25 or 40 or 50 years old, one that brought back memories and stories, and to share that with the rest of us. Could make for a really good show.

I was starting to plan the next Talk Story shows, for July and September, and figure out how to make that photos-of-your-past program happen. But, all the spring cleaning at home, and new discipline in my lifestyle (more rest, regular exercise and healthier diet), has me looking for ways to be more effective in my work and responsibilities. So, I’m going to scrap Talk Story. It’s a good idea, and it has been a good way for me to explore narrative in my 40s, but I need to focus on other things. Besides, I’ve learned that it takes skill, hard work and lots of practice to tell good stories and help others tell theirs. I can’t give Talk Story all it needs because my family, ScienceOnline, and others need my attention.

That’s not to say I’m giving up on storytelling. At work, I’m beginning to plan out the Voices of Medicine initiative (more about that collaboration, with Jeff Polish, soon), and I continue to attend The Monti and listen to The Story Collider and other story podcasts.

I also may dig into my own and my family’s image archives to see what stories are there. I tried once to start a Sunday evening photoblogging routine. Maybe I’ll start that up again.

Anton Zuiker

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