The Power of Our Words
We all know a photo is worth a thousand words. So did Dorothea Lange. She used her photos to do the heavy lifting that writers do with words. The work is always to tell a story, stir emotions, cause a connection, create an impact. That’s what art does, and that’s why it changes us.
When an exhibition of Lange’s images was displayed in a New York City gallery, a man who saw them was deeply moved. He was so touched by their intimacy, so drawn into the lives of the migrant workers, that he felt akin to them. He wanted to help, but “What can I do?” he thought. “I’m just a writer.” It was John Steinbeck, and soon his book The Grapes of Wrath was on the bookstands.
As another man read the words of Steinbeck, he, too, felt moved to action. “These are my fellow citizens. I want to help, but what can I do? I’m only a film director.” But it was John Ford, and soon Americans were flocking to the theaters to see his film The Grapes of Wrath. And once the American public felt their commonness with these farmers and migrant workers, they, too, asked themselves, “What can I do?” They wrote letters, lobbied Congress, insisted on social programs that would help the migrant workers; and that was the beginning of several federal programs that benefited the folks who were most in need.
Lange could never have known the reach of her work. All she knew was that she had a tool for getting the word out. Day after day, she, a polio survivor herself, limped through the camps of the most destitute and shared their world in the best way she could. And that changed everything.
Our creations change the world. We put out our words, our stories, our images, and they do their work of touching hearts, changing minds, bringing light where there is dark.
We do not ask, “How can I change the world?” We simply ask, “What do I love? What do I know? What do I care about?” and to the best of our ability, we offer that to the world in the most beautiful way we can. That is our job as writers. We are myth-makers, word weavers, healers. We are creating a new culture with our stories and poems, essays and novels. It is WE who have the whole world in our hands. Let’s write it anew!
Jan Phillips is a writer, photographer, and activist. She has made a one-woman peace pilgrimage around the world, traveled across the country as a photojournalist, co-founded Syracuse Cultural Workers (publishers of artwork for peace and justice), and founded the Livingkindness Foundation, which has built a computerized learning center in a Nigerian village. Jan is the author of ten award-winning books and publisher of the photo-memoir Born Gay: Images and Reflections of an Ordinary Lesbian. Her books include Creativity Unzipped: Why Your Thoughts Matter; No Ordinary Time: The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity; Finding the On-Ramp to Your Spiritual Path: A Road Map to Joy and Rejuvenation; The Art of Original Thinking: The Making of a Thought Leader; Divining the Body: Reclaim the Holiness of Your Physical Self; Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity; God Is At Eye Level: Photography as a Healing Art; Making Peace: One Woman’s Journey Around the World; and A Waist Is A Terrible Thing to Mind: Loving Your Body, Accepting Yourself, and Living Without Regret. www.janphillips.com
Photo credit: “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange