In telling stories, our brains react to words and immediately think of them. Rather than arguing that storytelling is limited to the written sphere, it is perhaps interesting to see how else stories can be constructed and told. Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations where we meet up with a stranger who ends up becoming a friend in the most extraordinary and unexpected ways; or we smell the scent of recently baked bread from a bakery that is not the one we know, but that instantly reminds us of home. These are just examples, but small and simple details sometimes make up unexpected stories. Storytelling has always been an intriguing subject, leaving some of us wondering how to find a story, how to create meaning, and if they exist to be written, to be spoken. Can they be smelt or seen? This article approaches the subject from a perspective beyond the written and spoken. It includes the visual, featuring the work of Kayla MacInnis, and introduces the idea that worlds can complement themselves instead and help each other in the development of intention, the creation of meaning, and finally, in the existence of multi-layered stories.
Kayla MacInnis (@kaylabythesea) is a storyteller who, in her work, mixes the visual and written worlds. As a Journalism and Creative Writing student at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University, she hopes to pursue a PhD in Communications and film studies. Currently, as well as being a freelance writer and photographer, Kayla is a Teaching Assistant and the Lead Editor for SAD Magazine. In life, and reflected in her work, Kayla is interested in the phenomenology of seeing, which approaches how an experience can affect how we experience the world around us. In storytelling, this happens through expanding knowledge further than the written. Kayla's approaches include the use of other experimental mediums (such as sound design) to recreate moments and tell stories as closely as possible to the way they were previously experienced.
Photography can be personal, subjective, experimental, and documental, but above all, it can tell stories. Several analyses and critiques of the social world have been explored in photography. Likewise, personal or relevant abstract stories exist in the world of photography too. Whether the story we are trying to tell is someone else's, ours, or something that we dreamt of, presenting it in the form of a photograph can create meaning in itself or even establish a connecting line with the written world.
But to find the stories we want to tell is a long process, sometimes having to look inside of us to understand who we are and what we are trying to transmit. With stories, Kayla "hopes to inspire people to find different ways to connect with themselves and one another". As such, within the creative process, her identity also plays a huge role. Through her inspirations and Indigenous and European roots, she develops her sense of self, which can also be seen in her curiosity for language and culture. Indicators of time, thinking about movement. weather patterns, things unsaid, moments in between or even the feeling of being in Palo Duro Canyon are some of the things Kayla inspires herself in, which, as a consequence, also inspire her work.
There are many layers to how we see ourselves and how we live our lives individually and collectively. As someone with ADHD, Kayla asks questions about presence and embodiment within her work. She explores how the world is seen, from which perspectives, and further than that, she challenges the ephemerality of what we see. Sometimes we wander around in the street and we notice a painting on the wall, or listen closely to the familiar sound of children in a playground. It is possible we came across these sights and sounds previously, but that we overlooked them. What Kayla explores is how what captivates her attention changes her perception of the world around her, therefore not only creating space for understanding of what we are surrounded by, but also allowing for the world to be seen differently.
As such, to be invested in telling a story that portrays the delicacies of identity, the intimate nature of our surroundings, and the details that are sometimes overlooked in our daily lives, assumes that the storyteller also needs to be aware of the uncertainty of living and keep an open mind to the better and worse moments one goes through.
"I think a lot about how, in order to really live, you have to take risks, eyes open to all the possibilities: the beautiful and the dangerous moments. Letting myself let in all of that sensory information can feel like a lot, but it builds on this argument of being present, this ode to feeling embodied within myself and my work. [...] I like to ask myself, 'How can I generate meaning in a way that feels true to the experience?'. For me, I need the visual and narrative aspects to build a connection."
This connection that Kayla describes is sometimes what individuals, writers or artists look for in the construction and development of the story they want to approach. Not only in stories but in life too. There are no right and wrong answers in trying to create. And we learn in so many ways: from writing to failed attempts at doing something and trying again...and perhaps failing again. For example, finding the "in-between" and accepting it as imperfect and challenging can create a story. To find meaning, we have to be honest with ourselves; to generate and pass it on, we have to be honest with others. And we might not find the answers we are expecting or want, but we gain knowledge, awareness, and hopefully find a way of connecting ourselves with our environment and the world through stories and learning.
But the blurred lines of the visual and the written worlds that Kayla explores in her work always come back to something: a convergence point. In that, while she builds multi-layered stories that complement her curiosity over learning about the world around her, she also finds comfort in the point where "one meets the other." This idea involves understanding that two opposite directions meet at the place of convergence. These can carry differences, and Kayla tries to find how to bridge the gap, create understanding, awareness, and generate meaning for one and the other.
"I once loved a boy in Sweden. There is a place where two oceans meet west of his hometown Gothenburg, and I've always felt drawn to visit that convergence zone. How can we meet one another where we are? How can we bridge the gap between where you and the other person are coming from to reach understanding? Those questions are the foundation of my work and how I show up in the world."
Finally, it may be interesting to think about dreams. The aim of connecting worlds involves ideas, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. In the ability to dream, we build stories, we look forward to things, and we can also find the motivation to keep creating. Often thoughts and ideas do not become a project, and in some other instances, dreams will not turn into reality. But perhaps, the ability to build a story within our brains and turn it into something different from what we previously thought it would become is still valuable.
Kayla approaches dreaming from a perspective that values time and includes the feelings of nostalgia. By looking at the world, she feels, and by looking at the past, she reflects upon both past and present feelings in a way that puts them in perspective, not against each other. While dreaming might make us wonder what a specific moment will feel like (and perhaps also create expectations about the future), nostalgia allows us to look back and try to understand the feelings we could not assimilate previously. In a world of expectations, we think about the things we did not do waiting for "the right moment." Think of unburnt candles bought only for special occasions, or a particular stored food still waiting to be opened at the special family dinner that never happened; we realise that dreaming can be mistaken for wishing, but it is vital that we appreciate our surroundings and the small things around us because perhaps we will find it valuable to light a candle for ourselves.
Nostalgia, on the other hand, allows us to reflect on memories and feelings, and it is possible that these are not indissociate from the connection between physical and abstract words. In Kayla's work, this is seen in the way she revisits photographs in her writing by "accentuating details to add layers of imagery" and "balancing the affective experience of being in a moment with ephemera."
"I'm at a point in my life where I'm happy with myself and my life (mostly), and because there is this heaviness that blankets the world sometimes (and this isn't toxic positivity, I cry, and I cry a lot), I do my best to channel those feelings into something that can pause them in time, you know? I like to look back and see how things have shifted over the years."
Ultimately, we stay hopeful while being honest and recognising that we are humans, and humans learn and live differently from one another. If anything, we remain optimistic about finding our people, and our community. From one perspective or another, storytelling generates meaning, and meaningful stories can create memories, inspire dreams, or start uncomfortable conversations. If we look inside, we all have stories: stories to keep and stories to tell. Storytellers are dreamers; they feel, they reflect, and they look. Above all, they are human, and in whatever way (or medium) they tell their stories, they have something to say. So this article ends with Kayla's hopeful yet conscious words:
"What I value the most in life is communication, connection, and community, and allowing myself the space to really slow down and be intentional about where my attention and time are going because these are the most valuable resources that exist, and we can't get them back."
This article is the first of a series of articles called "Connecting Worlds and Identities Through Storytelling." This series aims to approach the art of storytelling through different lenses, featuring three different photographers and storytellers. Each of these articles has two topics in common: storytelling and identity; however, they all differ in perspectives and themes. Storytelling can be done in many different ways, and identity can be explored and approached in several ways too. This series explores the issues, the difficulties, but also the freedom that comes with telling stories. Whatever the story being told is.