The Story Center story I’ve chosen to blog about is “Knowing” by Mai Vang, found under the “Youth Voices” theme.
“Knowing” is a story about Vang’s experience learning about social justice in a hands-on college program that took students out of the classroom and into the community. What first struck me so much about this particular piece is the composition of the images. I noticed how well chosen each image was – both explicit images (a photo of her acceptance letter to the program) and implicit images (of a girl sitting on a bench in an empty park as the voice-over describes feeling lost and directionless) are deployed by this story teller to convey her learning experience and the emotional journey that accompanied it. For some reason, noticing her visual composition reminded me of the Story Corps videos where they animate short cartoons to go with the stories being told. I think those videos present an interesting contrast to “Knowing” and other videos I watched on the Story Center site because of the way that constraints on visuals can affect the creative process and the final product.
In the Story Corps videos, the animation artist or artists can create visuals for scenes that were not captured on video or film. This means that the audience can watch a recreation of a memory shared by the story teller with explicit images of what is being described. The use of animation instead of live-action filming also allows metaphors to be visualized in literal ways – for example, animating a little girl literally swallowing a book as the story teller describes “devouring” a book she got at the local library instead of merely “reading” it. The digital story telling of Story Center doesn’t use animation and so does not have that same amount of flexibility. In “Knowing”, Vang must find images that will convey to her audience what her experiences felt like. Some images, like photos from class trips or projects, were already available to her and helped to illustrate where she went and who was with her. Other images look like they might have been taken for the video, specifically photos of what looks like notes taken during class with words like “hegemony” and “oppression” clearly legible for the viewer and standing as the visual representation of the program’s subject matter. Still other images, the implicit ones, of a road or a lone figure on a bench in an empty park help to convey the story teller’s emotional journey of self-discovery.
Would “Knowing” have had the same emotional resonance for me if it had been animated by the team at Story Corps? I certainly love those little cartoon shorts. I find them charming, funny, and yet also emotionally honest. But I think that I as a viewer also gained something from seeing how Mai Vang chose to visualize her own experience. I think it makes a difference to see the images that resonated with her as she sought to create a visual representation of what she felt.