Friday, 27 February 2009

Finding a voice - telling a story

In 2007 a good friend who is a photographer and lives in New Zealand told us she had an idea - she was going to set off with her husband and two year old son and travel around New Zealand for 3-4 months in a caravan to take portraits of Winners and to find their stories for a book she had been commissioned to produce.

She defined winners as anyone who held a record or excelled in their area - ploughing champions, rosarian (roses) champions, best turned out takaka naked cycle rider for example. As they set off, they had no idea what they were going to find or how they were going to find them. They just want off in search of stories, asking people to direct them to winners. I joined them for a week of their journey, and it was really clear that people in New Zealand loved telling their story. More information is available at

In her introduction to the book, Jessie says '...and from doing these interviews i discovered that everyone has a story, it just needs to be searched for...'

And I was reminded about Jess' extraordinary work over the last week. I have been in Thailand and one of my holiday reads was Julie Walters biography. I was motivated to read it after her stunning performance in Short stay in Switzerland about the euthanasia clinic, which had me sobbing mercilessly, and becoming incredibly lucent about my death wishes should I become ill.

On route to becoming an outstanding actress, Julie trained to be a teacher. She describes a group of young women she had to teach as part of her teaching practice who were disengaged with school and academia, and would nowadays likely be in a Pupil Referral Unit. She asked for their help. She wanted to become a teacher and she needed to pass the teaching practice. She needed them to work with her, and give her that chance of passing - of not 'getting it from the teacher'. These girls were all too familiar with 'getting it from the teacher' and so gave their help.

Through opening up communication, and developing an authentic relationship with these young women, Julie Walters was able to build a bridge between the authority of a teacher and their shared experiences as human beings. She describes detailed, frank and animated conversations about hopes, aspirations, poverty, discrimination, injustice and justice.

These young women Julie talks about had many stories to tell and they told them when given the chance to do so. When I first started working with young men, I was told they wouldn't talk. And yet the did talk for hours. Openly, honestly and candidly. And ever since it has been my experience that when young people participate in interactive media projects, they often come alive, standing up straight, telling stories for the record - clear, honest, heart warming, heart breaking stories of real lives.
Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, blogging are modern ways of telling our tales and making sense of our lives and our relationships - some adults worry about the computer generation - fearful that it will produce a generation who can only talk with their touch typing fingers - this type of documenting life, forming friendships and communicating, are not alternatives to real life relationships and good communication, they are an integral part of them.

Learning about ourselves, the sex we desire, our sexuality, discovering our likes and dislikes is done through finding our voices, telling our stories and listening to the stories of others.

Everyone has their stories, some people struggle to find their voice. As Jessie said in her book, when it comes to people's stories 'you just have to find them' - in working with young people, we need to use a diverse range of approaches so everyone can find their voice, tell their stories and understand themselves - there are lots of excellent examples of people doing this with young people day in day out.

1 comment:

Brett said...

Hey Si, it's good to hear your voice coming through on these blog posts too. Thanks for keeping up the pressure on the things you are passionate about.