Talking Pictures – Finding stories in images

Talking PicturesWe’ve all heard the old saying that a picture says a thousand words.  Many of us, as we grow older, live in homes decorated in photographs – of ourselves, our family, our friends and other loved ones, and together these images tell stories about our lives. Most of us will keep these our whole lives, and pass them on to our descendants – something that is becoming even easier in this digital age.

Ransom Riggs (mostly known for his book Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, which I’ll discuss in a later post), is a little different. He collects images of other people, people he doesn’t know, and he has done since he was a young boy, when he first started sifting through old photos for sale at antique stores and markets. As an adult, he has become obsessed not just with the photo, but with the captions often written on the back of the photographs which can sometimes illuminate something special about the picture not particularly obvious on its own.

While the picture looks boring and blurred on its own, the caption reveals that a baby girl was found lying on the side of the road - suddenly the image is transformed, and has a story.

While the picture looks boring and blurred on its own, the caption reveals that a baby girl was found lying on the side of the road – suddenly the image is transformed, and has a story.

Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued From The Past showcases some of his favourite and most powerful of his collected photos and their accompanying captions. There are over 300 pages of different images, all put into particular categories; “Clowning Around” includes pictures of people having fun and playing pranks, while there are other chapters looking into love and marriage, wartime photos, and even a chapter dedicated to one person in particular, a little girl called Janet Lee whose short but tragic life story is captured in just a few photos and captions.

While it seems like such a weird obsession, it only takes a look through a few pages of this book before you find yourself totally immersed and understanding why Riggs collects these images – while the photos on their own do tell stories, the captions help the stories become more complex, with a much stronger emotional resonance. The sad stories are completely heartbreaking, while the fun stories are cheeky and bound to put a smile on your face.

As a writer, I am drawn to the idea that we can find stories in the simplest of things, and in the most unlikely of places. Ransom Riggs has found a treasure trove of stories, and this book is a must read for anybody with a love of writing, stories or even just quirky photos. You won’t regret it, and you certainly won’t forget it.

Have you read this or Riggs’ novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children? What were your thoughts?

"This is the way my wife always treats me. I'm saying to her 'Ah, cut it out.'"

“This is the way my wife always treats me. I’m saying to her ‘Ah, cut it out.'”

"Isn't life wonderful when you are in love."

“Isn’t life wonderful when you are in love.”

*All images taken from Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued From The Past by Ransom Riggs.

8 thoughts on “Talking Pictures – Finding stories in images

  1. What a cool idea for a book!

    We inherited hundreds of old photos from my grandparents, most of which don’t have captions on the back, so we have no idea who some of the people are. Were they relatives or their friends? Where were the photos taken and what was the occasion?

    I was very thankful that one of my great-aunts used to send my grandmother snapshots of her and the family back east with captions so we could easily identify who was who from the photos. They have been very helpful in recreating our family tree, especially the new program that will allow the download of photos into the tree, so we can identify the family members easier.

    I would love to use some of our old photos in a family history at some point, kind of like what Ransom did but with pictures of people I actually knew. 🙂

    • Ahhh that would be cool to use those photos for a family history! I think that’s what I need to do at some point – track down some more photos of my family. I have photos going back about three generations, but only directly (as in, parents, grandparents, and my great grandma – it doesn’t branch out much although I know my family becomes enormous with my grandparents’ generation).
      Hope you do make that family history at some point! 🙂

  2. I read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children last year and I really liked it. To be completely honest, the story itself wasn’t as amazing to me as the fact that Ransom based it on real pictures. It’s such a cool idea, and a great way to help the nameless people in old forgotten pictures live on.

    Sometimes, I sit somewhere in public and write short stories about interesting people I see. I think it’s more fun than creating a character of my own, even if I actually know nothing about the real person. I guess that’s kind of what Ransom did, and I imagine he had as much fun with it as I do!

    I wasn’t aware of Talking Pictures, but I’ll definitely be checking it out!

    • Yeah, I’ve heard similar reviews of that novel, that the idea itself is more interesting than the story. I think I’d still wanna read it for that reason! 🙂
      I definitely take in little things I see about people out in public, and sometimes incorporate these oddities into my characters and stories. I think it’s fun to create characters that comment on and reflect the strangeness of real people, I suppose.

  3. I put Riggs on my radar right after finishing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and read Talking Pictures last year as well. Most likely due to my bedblob mood, I didn’t get as much enjoyment from this book as might have under different circumstances. But still, I found satisfaction from the experience! The pictures are small moments of ordinary people’s lives preserved for a much longer period, and I think the window of perspective (and speculation) we spectators have is part of what gives these photographs a pinch of wonder.

    In the meantime, I am awaiting the second Miss Peregrine book with great anticipation! The story itself has flaws, and I wasn’t too happy about the manner book #1 ends. Overall, though, I quite enjoyed it. Ransom Riggs can write (or so my opinion says!), and the Miss Peregrine series has potential.

    • Ahhh I didn’t realise there were going to be more Miss Peregrine books! Awesome!
      I definitely think Riggs is unique, if nothing else, in his approach to writing and storytelling, and I think he already is making a name for himself for all the right reasons. He illuminates something special about photographs and our connection to them, as you have pointed out much more eloquently in your awesomely insightful comment just now, and I think it is something which will stay with a lot of readers.
      Will be curious to see where he goes with his books, that’s for sure! 🙂

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