I recently dreamed, created and implemented my first digital storytelling project. Ofcourse it was not mine alone – no storytelling project can truly be said to be so.
In March 2011 I received a phone call from Tracey Kirk-Downey at Wollongong City Council. She had an idea for a one-week project to perform and share stories of migration for family’s week. The initial phone call sparked many ideas, most of which were way beyond the scope of a one-week program. After a number of emails, follow up conversations and some ‘fishes and loaves type funding procurement’ by Tracey, a 6-month project was born.
The Connections Project; Stories of Migration and Relocation included Tracey from Wollongong City Council, Family Services, Tim Dennis, photographer and myself as storyteller/gatherer. Between May and October 2011, we set up photo booths in a number of public locations, at Illawarra events, in libraries, preschools and schools. I covered an age range of 3 years to retirement years all discussing, discovering and workshopping what migration, relocation and connection means to the residents of the Illawarra.
I interviewed residents of the Illawarra about living in the region. Have they moved in/out of the Illawarra? When did they moved? Why? What they love about the Illawarra region and what stories they feel represent their life here.
The project aimed to produce a video and gallery exhibition for the month of November (during the Viva La Gong Festival – a festival celebrating Wollongong in the Illawarra geographic region). The school age children produced artwork and stories around migration and relocation taking into account future ideas and concepts. Their minds go to so many other places rapidly and with joy, it was a great experience.
As always, I could write about any number of things in relation to a large project. It was fascinating and provided a wealth of information and learning opportunities. Personally two features stand out; firstly, the act of working with many other people to produce a result and secondly, delving into the world of digital storytelling and what a huge learning curve that is.
Interviewing people in the region was a lot of fun. I am fortunate to be in a position where I ask people questions and I have the time to sit and listen. It struck me how rare this really is in life. It is an honour to hear peoples response’s, memories, loves, dislikes and I get to hear it within minutes of meeting them, none of the small talk to wade through! I found that from the moment I made contact with people I became entangled in their wealth of stories and wished that I could have heard much more. I felt inspired by the range of people, knowledge and experience that exists all around us. I was also fascinated by the results as they began to form.
As the sole interviewer I obtained a sense of the results as they were forming or coming together. It was wonderful to realise that all people, ages, races, religions and years of living here are bound by similar emotional ties. They expressed a love of open space, including the beach and bush, their family and land connections (particularly amongst long term residents and Aboriginal community), food, education (particularly amongst refugees and overseas migrants), health, friends and work. A four year old boy told me he loved the move as now he has a backyard, a nine year old recent immigrant told me of his love of walking along the beach at dusk and a 70 year old told me the sand is a pain but to sit and watch the beach is her peace. No matter the age, the themes were the same – and it felt like a delightful discovery.
The joy of interviewing also came with difficulties for me. When interviewing at reconciliation events, refugee events and the like I ended up hearing beautiful stories of inspiration and survival and some tough details of violence, war, escape, isolation, removal and more. At times the details of pain and suffering held by these stories and lives would stay with me. The details would swirl in my imagination, dreams and daily life and I found it necessary to work on staying strong and keep all the threads separate. I have always been a person with thin boundaries and I need to take care not to take on other people’s stories. This project was a good example of that necessity.
The second lesson was the power of digital storytelling. This was the first time that I have worked with a photographer. It was a gift to end a session of interviews and receive a disk of photographs. Everything on that disk was from a different perspective than what I had. A different angle on the face, capturing moments when we were sharing conversation, thoughts, when I was note taking or the individual was deep in thought. It opened a new realm of learning and understanding for me not only into the people but also into the power of the image. I tend to be much more word focused. To place the image with the word was remarkable.
And the lesson I received in how long it really takes to produce and edit a video clip – well, we wont even go into the detail of those hours and hours and hours of ‘learning’!
I intend to have some stills and a section of the video available on my website early next year.
Once again thanks for reading and I hope that your silly season Christmas stories are ones of sharing, love and inspiration.