Images that ignite conversation

by Mr. Sheehy

There have been times when I talk about what I would teach if I could teach any course I wanted, even if only for a week. In my high school we had a week after mid-term exams called “Inter-Session” where a completely unique list of special interest classes were offered. One year I took two courses – chess and snowshoeing/orienteering, and the other year we had it I went on a trip to Gettysburg (a must-do trip for even a part-time Civil War buff). When I speculate what I’d do as a teacher, I have often suggested that I might do something where we merged photography and literature – perhaps a creative writing class inspired entirely by photos, perhaps a co-teaching class with a photography teacher – I haven’t worked out any details because nothing in my future indicates that I’ll be able to offer such a class (though if I put it together for the summer I could offer it to teachers – I’ll store that thought away for later).

Tonight after working on my grad school project for an hour and a half (now that’s a great way to spend a Saturday night!) I began wandering around Flickr looking at photos of Chris McCandless and the Fairbanks bus 142 where he stayed and died. I’m not sure why I didn’t think earlier of heading here for pictures like this, especially considering my decade-long obsession with this story, but I didn’t until tonight. I found two interesting sets. One had a bunch of shots with Chris in them, and I’m not sure how the Flickr member got them; the other was from Carol, who had trekked to the spot in 2004 and took a handful of great pictures.

It was on Carol’s account that I discovered a tangible example of the power of pictures to engage conversation. Inevitably, I suppose, people are compelled to comment when they see these images, just as they commented when they read Jon Krakauer’s story (Krakauer has said that his story prompted more mail to Outside magazine than any story they’d ever published). They wrote, and when they wrote, Carol responded, extending a wonderful conversation that spans months. For a great example, see this strand of exchanges, posted below a photo of the plaque Chris McCandless’s family posted to the bus.

Photos have power, but one of the underrated powers they have is their power to ignite words – thousands of ’em.

That makes me want to take pictures.

Thanks for reading.