Lay a large number of photographs or images in front of your group.
Pose a question, such as “WHAT THOUGHTS ARE YOU HAVING RIGHT NOW?”
Then, ask each individual to choose one image which best reflects their response.
Invite people to share in pairs, small groups or the whole group why they chose their image.
Video Transcript for Photo Language
presented by Mark Collard
I’m going to ask you now in this exercise to now reflect on our morning together. I’m going to invite you to spend a few moments just to gaze and review all of the many images that appear on the floor. These are a series of photographs and you can tell if you look closely at the fashion, these are quite old photographs. But you all know the cliché “A picture tells a thousand words”. Each one of you, even if you only focused on one image could see something different in it.
Over the course of the next couple of minutes I invite you to interact and mingle. So don’t just stick with those who are close to you but find someone maybe on the other side of the circle. But lean in. If you need to, point or pick up and then later on replace, but pick up and take an image to someone.
This is a great chance to reinforce a name. If you can’t remember please ask. And then say hey, when I think back over this morning this image says something to me about what I’ve discovered, what I haven’t done, or what I have done. It’s effectively a reflection using the images on these photographs to stimulate that emotion.
So to repeat, in a moment I’m going to ask you to pick up a piece, an image, find one person, share with them why you picked it up, what does this particular image evoke in your mind about what happened this morning, maybe something you discovered or learned, invite them to share the same thing, put them back, go find yourself another person, maybe another image for the same purpose.
Got the idea? We’ll take a couple of minutes with this. Go. Feel free to start as soon as you can.
(people picking photographs as part of Photo Language, sharing thoughts)
How To Play Narrative
As we all know, a picture tells a thousand words. Hence, it should come as no surprise that images can work wonders as a powerful processing tool.
Gather your group and then lay a large set of photographs or images on the floor, a table, wherever.
You could create or source your own set of images, or to save time, grab a commercial set produced expressly for this purpose, such as Photo Language cards (see Leadership Tips tab for details.)
Then pose a question that will invite your group to reflect on the meaning of the images they see before them. There are no shortage of questions you could ask, but here are a few examples:
Choose an image that reflects how you are feeling right now.
Identify a feature in one of these images that captures the essence of our group.
Think of one experience you have enjoyed today and then find an image that speaks to it.
Ask each person to pick up one or more cards that reflect or capture their response to your question.
Sometimes, it can be enough to simply ask people to show their image, without having to say anything. However, the most powerful interactions occur when people are asked to share their thoughts with others.
Depending on your purpose, and the abilities of your group, invite this sharing in pairs, small groups or out-loud to the whole group.
Expect a range of responses from humorous, sincere, deep, insightful and downright bizarre. The language of photos and other images is often more powerful than you think.
Practical Leadership Tips
Take a look at Useful Debriefing Tips to learn about the benefits of processing your group’s experience, and how to run a successful debrief.
By far the most impressive, evocative set of images I have sourced are the Photo Language cards, produced by the Catholic Education Office (Australia.) However, many similar versions can be sourced elsewhere throughout the world.
On a rare occasion, a large number of photographs/images may overwhelm the feelings of some people, so prepare for the emotions this debriefing strategy may evoke.
You could integrate Photo Language as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The evocative nature of photographs and images is ideal for exploring and developing emotional literacy. Help your group to explore what they are seeing or interpreting in a particular image to navigate a range of emotions such as compassion and empathy, frustration, conflict and attitudes.
Posting one or more images to evoke self-reflection is a powerful way to help your group to be present in the moment. Invite your group to focus on an image for a short time, and then ask them to share what comes up for them, ie write in a journal or share in a small group.
Commercial Sets: Most commercial sets of photographs/images come with a set of instructions that detail a number of different ways to use them as a processing tool. Here are a few ideas:
– Select one or more images that reflect what they have observed in someone else.
– Select one or more images that reflect their own or the group’s aspirations.
– Randomly distribute three images to each person in your group. Allow two minutes for each person to mingle with the group for the purpose of trading images one for one with others. Each person’s goal is to end up with three images that they can share and wend into a story, in response to a question you have posed.
– Ask your group to consider all of the possible thoughts and emotions just one specific image provokes, from the good, the bad and the ugly.
Take a look at Panic Picture to enjoy a fast-paced version of this exercise.
Digitise your preferred set of photographs or seek out a commercial set of images to display to your virtual gathering when required. Invite contemplation privately or via audible or written (chatroom) means.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It may sound like…
“TAKE A MOMENT TO LOOK OVER ALL OF THE IMAGES LAID OUT BEFORE YOU… WHEN YOU ARE READY, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO TAKE ONE IMAGE WHICH BEST REPRESENTS HOW YOU FEEL THE GROUP IS PERFORMING AT THE MOMENT…”
“HAVING LOOKED OVER THIS PILE OF IMAGES, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO PICK JUST TWO IMAGES WHICH YOU THINK CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF HOW YOU FELT WHEN [describe event…]”
Big thanks to Jim Schoel, who, in 1990, showed me his original set of personal Photo Language images to process a particular group experience.