The Story of A Story

I found the following blog post on my iPad. I wrote it before leaving home and never got around to posting it. Enjoy :)

“Everyone has a story.”

This simple four-word phrase is the driving force behind Illini 4000′s Portraits Project. Journalists use the phrase as a call to interview as many people as possible, and writers borrow it to explore new characters.

And from this phrase comes a few great examples of capturing these stories:

Louis “Studs” Terkel. In the 1970s, Terkel wrote “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” The book included interviews with everyday people from janitors and foremen to policemen and photographers. During World War II, he compiled interviews with people involved in the war effort to produce “The Good War.” And finally, by the time he was close to his own death, he explored mortality with doctors, morticians, mothers, etc. in a book called, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Studs Terkel was incredible in that he was a good writer, but more importantly, he was a great listener. In 2010, the Library of Congress announced its plan to digitally preserve over 7000 tape recordings of Terkel’s work. The Library called his work, ”a remarkably rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the second half of the 20th century.” 

Humans of New York. Every day, 29-year old Brandon Stanton photographs strangers in New York. After taking their photos, Brandon learns more about them and posts these pictures and interviews on his Facebook page “Humans of New York.” With over 2.8 million likes, the page has been a catalyst for this type of everyday documentation. My high school yearbook even started “You Don’t Know the Half of It” to profile new students about once a week. What I love is that his work explores the idea that outside of our lives, our fears, our hopes and dreams, there are other people with their own lives and fears and hopes and dreams living their lives too. Stanton states, “My favorite compliment is that I photograph things that other people walk by everyday and don’t notice. But I photograph them and make them beautiful.”

And I think that’s the power of we do in Illini 4000. We aren’t just biking across the country to be dramatically athletic. Biking gives us the power to slow down and speak to whoever we want. As the Portraits Project States, we’re biking across the country in order to document the American Cancer Experience. As Studs Terkel and Brandon Stanton have no doubt learned and shown in their work, there is no singular “experience.” Everyone experiences cancer—whether it’s a victory, a loss, or somewhere in between—differently. There are countless people to talk to, different towns, states, and situations. 

What I hope to find at the end of the summer is that we’ve done what we can to add powerful voices to the Portraits Project. I want there to be stories that make you feel every emotion: laugh, cry, maybe laugh-cry, and hopefully change the way you think about your own life. 

Comments (1)
  • aknicker Alex Knicker says:

    Love your post, Kevin. You should write a post to follow up about is now that you’ve finished.

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