Photographic inspiration

Basing a story on a picture is nothing new; there are websites which provide a picture and ask for related story submissions and I’ve done it myself a few times, with Psyche and the Soul, the Day the Circus Came to Town and a couple of as-yet unpublished stories all inspired by Mark Pexton’s art (Psyche, Insane Clown Posse, Meltoriel, and Pythia respectively). However, just because it’s not a new idea doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. Whether you’re looking for more solid versions of the hazy characters in your head or searching for a full-blown story, a photo or postcard archive, your own family photo albums, or Flickr are good places to start.

I’m lucky enough to have copies of old family photos, like this one of a wedding group in the 1920s:

I vaguely remember the groom as an old man, and I’ve heard many stories about the bride so they’re tainted by reality for me, but the other people spark off ideas as I look at them. I have no idea who they are, what they did, where they lived so I have no limitations on the backgrounds I can conjure for them or the reasons I can come up with why one particular chap became best man. It all begins with details and questions. Who is the little boy and why doesn’t he look dressed up? Why is the older woman at the back wearing a heavy winter coat when the other women look more summery? What or who is the man at the back looking at?

As children, friend T and I spent many a happy hour huddled over a book celebrating the Picture Post, making up names, characters, backgrounds – filling in the reality around that one snapshot. Why were they looking over to one side? Who was the man lurking in the background with an ice cream? What urgent phonecall was the man with the moustache making as his secretary looked on?

Another good source, not quite the same, is the British Pathe film archive, free to view online. Fascinating in its own right, it has also provided a few sparking moments. Some of the films are silent anyway, but you can always mute the computer if you want to allow your imagination a little more room to manoeuvre.

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