Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World

By Kim Douillard (@kd0602): Kim is a teacher-writer-blogger-photographer who also directs the San Diego Area Writing Project.  You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602 and on her blog at 

Red Leaf

Image by Kim Douillard

A few years ago I noticed a colleague of mine taking photos with her iPhone. They weren’t the usual photos of a group of friends or of your cute child or even the requisite selfie to document a moment in time, instead, she took photos to a prompt…and posted them on Instagram. I was intrigued.

Photography was always something that interested me, but I simply couldn’t be bothered lugging around all that equipment, setting up for perfect shots…or even knowing what made a perfect shot. But with my phone (and camera) in my pocket, it was handy…and I was ready for a challenge.

So I found a photo-a-day challenge with daily prompts and set out to give it a try. Prompts like one, logo, spoon, and inside sparked my imagination and I started looking at my environment through different eyes.  I not only took at least a photo a day, I also posted at least one photo a day to my Instagram account (you can find me @kd0602). I took photos for a month, then a year…and now I continue to take and post photos regularly to Instagram. Somehow the more I took photos, the more I started thinking about the idea of blogging—an opportunity to write and share my writing in a public way.

When I started blogging in July of 2013, my goal was to write a blog post every day for 30 days.  I knew that was ambitious and I also knew that I needed to challenge myself and keep to it to create a sustainable habit.  Even as I picked a theme for my blog, I already knew that making a connection to my photography would motivate me.  I called my blog Thinking Through My Lens–a play on the double meaning of the camera lens and my own perspective on the world. ( What I didn’t realize until I started to blog every day was the power that the images I was snapping would have to stimulate my writing and help me frame my thinking.  A yellow sign I photographed at a gelato shop featuring locally sourced ingredients became inspiration for a post about the importance of growing and valuing local leadership in writing projects and educational settings. Each image I took filled my head with language as I sorted through my thinking.

When I’m out viewing the world through my camera lens, I find myself thinking…about teaching, about life, about the world.  My photos stimulate my thinking and my thinking sets me out in search of images.  

Recently I was out in the mountains of Alabama, looking for the foliage that represents autumn in so many places–and that is mostly missing in my place (San Diego).  Although the unseasonably warm (high 70s) and cloudy weather made the colors less vibrant, I noticed trees of gold and some touches of red.  As I walked along some forest paths, I spied this brilliant red leaf among the brown, crunchy leaves and stooped to photograph it.

And as I look at it, I find myself composing the writing…about standing out in a crowd…about being different…about risk taking.  It’s not written yet, but it’s brewing.  I also found myself composing the photo, leaning in close to capture the details.  And then later, maybe I’ll crop it, moving the red leaf away from the center of the frame, add a filter to brighten the red and increase the contrast…  As with the writing, composing is a process and the framing, the editing, the balance of color and light all impact the ways the image will be read and understood.  The images speak to me…and I hope they also speak to others, telling them stories that are likely different from mine.

Some images capture moods…the quiet introspection of a traveler with pant legs rolled up and his feet in the surf,

Setting Sun

Image by Kim Douillard


or the somber quality of birds silhouetted in a tree on a cloudy day.


Birds in a Tree

Image by Kim Douillard

And sometimes when it seems that there is nothing interesting to see and photograph, I head outside and explore. I push myself to play and re-imagine possible images. On one of those days not so long ago I picked a dandelion from my front yard (those glorious weeds seem to bring out my playfulness—and oh, does my husband rue their existence in our lawn!) and wondered how to photograph it in a different way. I noticed my car in the driveway and considered how I might capture the image if I blew on the dandelion near the rear-view mirror, but I didn’t seem to have enough hands for that. But as I was contemplating that idea, I noticed the reflection of the dandelion in the paint of the car…and I started snapping. I continued my play with some apps…and created this image.

Dandelions Make Art

Image by Kim Douillard


And by embracing the ordinary, I experienced the exhilaration of exploration and play, which also led me to composing a teacher-artist manifesto using my photographs and my words to express the importance of play in the learning process.  You can see it here.

So what comes first?  The image or the words?  It’s that age-old chicken and egg dilemma…it all depends on how you look at it, and the particulars of any given situation.  And it seems to work that way for my students too.  Sometimes they have a full blown idea that appears in words on a page and other times they see something, maybe even something they have seen many times before, and the image inspires their thinking and words.  Even more fun happens when they start to really look closely at an image and they start to talk with each other and build on ideas presented by their classmates.  

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Head out with your camera in hand (the one on your phone or iPad or a “real” camera) and take a look up.  Let your camera lens give you “new eyes” on the sky and seek out the extraordinary in the ordinary around you.  Get low, find the light.  Tilt your lens up, try a new perspective.  Watch and wait, take more shots than you think you’ll need.  Then spend some time with your images, let your images release your imagination.  Let yourself soak in them, let them wash over you, splashing you with inspiration and wonder.  Then pick one.  You can let it speak for itself and post it naked.  Or you can let it whisper in your ear, guiding your words and your thoughts–framing an idea that you didn’t know you were ready for.  

For inspiration, we encourage you to add a photograph of your “sky” to a collaborative project we are calling “Our Eyes on the Skies” — which uses an open Google Slide format. To add yours, just take a photograph of your sky. Head to “Our Eyes on the Skies.” Grab a slide. Upload your picture and label it. We hope to create a rich visual documentation of the world above our heads. You are invited.

(Go to slideshow for collaboration)

We hope you will share out your visual work this week across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


10 thoughts on “Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World

  1. Inspiring, indeed! Kim, you’ve written so invitingly about photography that I feel like maybe I would like to try snapping a few extra pics here and there to see what emerges. Thank you for freeing me of the need to make “nice” pictures. I’ll keep your ideas in mind as I go.

  2. Pingback: Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World | Thinking Through My Lens

  3. There are so many moments when I see an image, and it just takes my breath away for its beauty and power. Yeah, writing does that, but not in the same way. I’m interested in how we “compose” an image — how we construct an experience by relying on the visual moment. And, I am interested, how do I teach that mindfulness to my young students, who snap pictures and post them to online sites with little thoughts about composition? We’re in this huge funnel of images, and could use more curation.

    • I often wonder how many childhood memories are usurped by looking at photographs because images are so evocative. Sometimes I feel like my memories are based mostly on photographs or is it because the photographs more easily summon these memories? It’s interesting to think about.

      Also how we capture these – I rarely take social photos as I’m too busy being with people to remember to get the camera out but when I’m alone, I tend to photograph far more of the world around me. Is the act of taking photographs social or is the photographer a lone ‘eye’ able to collaborate after the photograph – but what about if we had to somehow ‘share’ our idea of composition? Would that work?

      I’ve used photographs to write from, but also I think it’s good to think about how we textually describe images, for example with alt tags, descriptions and captions. I’ve often mused about whether this should always be a statement of matter-of- fact like “Image of leaves” or if it’s appropriate to try to capture the emotional and evocative sense of an image for those who can’t see the images whether due to technology limitations or visual impairment.

      • So many wonderful questions to muse on, Angela! I tend to take many more photos when I am not in a social situation. I do take lots when I’m out with my son who also loves to take photos…or with my husband who tolerates my obsession well. :)

        I like to write from and about my photos, caption them…but also, every week I post a “Silent Sunday” where I let the photo do the speaking without my words. It’s an interesting exercise. Something people ask me about the photo–and of course, I will tell them about it–but sometimes it is just left to be. I find myself choosing that Silent Sunday photo very carefully…


    • Interesting questions without easy answers, Kevin. We are trying to give our students opportunities to compose photographs and write…and write and then search for photos to capture their intent (before they are “tweens” and able to do all that social posting). We’re asking them to read images just like they read text…I think it will take a while to know just how that impacts them later… But seems worth the try!


      PS Love wordless books and graphic novels. We’re loving Little Robot by Ben Hatke right now!

  4. What a wonderful idea, Kim! Thanks so much for encouraging this. I’m nearing the end of my fall term, but I will try this out with my students next week for their blogging assignment. I really like your Google Slides idea, too. It’s a great way to collect responses to a specific prompt, and I will use it in my American Lit class coming up in about 45 minutes. I’ll share it.

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