I have listened to this 13 minute segment of audio three different times now. Each time I hear something different – either a detail that I missed or a tone in her voice revealing the emotion that makes audio such a powerful medium.
The excerpt from a recent episode of This American Life is an interview that Studs Terkel did with Peggy Terry in 1971 about her experience in the 1929 depression as part of his Hard Times collection.
“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. [Source.]
Peggy Terry whose formal education ended in sixth grade, who was married at 15, who hitchhiked around the country as a teenager with her husband while she was pregnant, picking fruit and cotton to get by. Peggy who tells Studs “it’s a really good life if you’re poor and you can manage to move around.”
What was immediately apparent to me after hearing Peggy talk is that she’s a great storyteller, the type of person that journalists want to get in front of a microphone. When we first started Rising Voices I figured that our biggest challenge would be technical. That is, teaching the technical skills of how to start a blog, how to record a podcast, and how to produce a video. But before you can even start those workshops, you need to talk about something else first: how to tell a story. As Elizabeth Daley, the dean of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, puts it:
From my perspective, probably the most important digital divide is not access to a box. It’s the ability to be empowered with the language that that box works in. Otherwise only a very few people can write with this language, and all the rest of us are reduced to being read-only.
Once you’ve found your story, it’s a matter of deciding which medium you want to work in. I have always been a lover of the written word, but lately I’ve been especially drawn to photography and audio. There is something about a good photograph which leaves me more empathetic and reflective than a two-hour movie.
But there is also an obvious problem about photography – it’s so open to interpretation.
What fascinated me just as much as the photographs themselves are the different interpretations they received. (Many of which are translated into English by Veronica.) This is what I love about conversational media – it breaks down truth so that the photographs themselves don’t become the authoritative view; they are a starting point for a conversation.