Changing the Rules

Episode 55: Storytelling Through Photos, Bonnie Shay, guest

Episode Summary

Bonnie Shay, print photo organizer extraordinaire, loves the stories told in photo. In her early days as a photo organizer, Bonnie relished the challenge of looking for clues that would help in putting photos in chronological order for her clients. Recently, a client asked her to sit with his mother and encourage her to tell the story behind a particular photo. Intrigued by the idea, she recorded the conversation, and a new service was added to her business. As a recent guest, Rebecca Hoffman told us, everyone loves a story well told. Join us to hear more about a legacy of stories. Learn more about The Luckiest People in the World at

Episode Notes

Reach out to Bonnie Shay at



This is Changing the Rules, a podcast about designing the life you want to live, hosted by KC Dempster and Ray Loewe, the luckiest guy in the world.

KC Dempster  0:14  
Good morning, everybody.

Ray Loewe  0:19  
lead in for me, you're just gonna leave it flat like that these days.

KC Dempster  0:22  
Yeah, I didn't want to keep talking over David Bowie

Ray Loewe  0:28  
You used to talk a little bit about the fact that you were in Wldfire Studios. Wonderful, Wild, but we're not there because we have snow. Right. Right. Right, social distancing. So Taylor is there Taylor is in wonderful Wildfire Studios. And he's orchestrating this whole thing for us, so that we don't have to know what we're doing. And it all comes out wonderfully well, right back.

KC Dempster  0:52  
That's right. He braved the elements. And he made his way in he probably snowshoed in and But anyway, we're all happy to be here. We have a wonderful show for you today, Changing the Rules, as our intro set is about designing your own life and then living it to the fullest. And so I will turn it over to Ray.

Ray Loewe  1:17  
Yeah, so we have a returning guest, Bonnie Shay from the wonderful world of Chicago, where there's about a foot of snow right now. And she's coming back, because we're going to talk more about storytelling. And we're going to talk about some of the things that our luckiest people in the world could do to make their lives more interesting. And to make the story of their lives come out the way they want it to be. Know, we've had some interesting guests have started this, we had a young lady A while ago by the name of Ashley Allen. And she came on and she talked about your personal brand, and the fact that are you showing up the way you want, you know, we we're all seen by those around us. But we actually have the opportunity to craft that story to make it what we want. We also have talked about engaging with our friends, our community in an exciting way, and keeping life exciting. So Bonnie actually started this thing because she was talking about photo organizing her specialty. And then we're gonna branch off our way beyond this. But the whole thing kind of is like storytelling can give the view of you that you want other people to have. It can also allow you to work with other people to create relationships the way you want to have them. So with all that, and it's kind of a wide open kind of a thing Bonnie Shay, Chicagoans. Extraordinary snowshoer. You know, what else are you doing these days? Why

Bonnie Shay  3:01  
cross country skiing to get through the snow? Absolutely.

Ray Loewe  3:07  
Right? The bicycle doesn't work. Exactly right. It's

Bonnie Shay  3:12  
a little snowy for bicycles. So you got it cross country skis, you know, you don't need batteries, you don't need gas, you can just need snow, and we got it. So we're in good shape.

Ray Loewe  3:24  
So let's start at the beginning here. And we got a lot to cover. And you've got some magnificent ideas for us. But let's go back to photo organizing. And let's go back to the fact that some people have these piles of photos that don't have much meaning anymore. They're in a binder somewhere and in attic and they gather dust. And if they're not put together the right way the kids eventually toss them

Bonnie Shay  3:52  
out. Right. Exactly, exactly. So when I started to be helpful, Ray and KC is I'm going to give sort of a background of what I do, and how I've changed especially with this pandemic, because so many people have found their boxes and boxes of printed photos, hiding in their closets and attics and basements because we've been extra time at home, looking around and organizing our lives. So my specialty is I curate large family photo collections of printed matter. And because I think that they're at the highest risk of getting lost or damaged in our day and age right now, we're not backing up our printed photos, like we are our digital photos. So I help my clients basically by A: putting them their photos in chronological order, and then editing them to the best of the best because we want to look at quality over quantity. We don't need all of their photos. And then scanning them digitizing them so that they're now available to share with others. And I realized over the years having a fabulous digital scanned photo collection on a Thumb Drive or an external hard drive was only part of the gift that my clients were giving to themselves or to their children. The priceless part of the gift is capturing the stories behind the photos, so that they can relive the memories, and have them to share with their kids, grandkids and future generations. So professionally in recent months, I've thought of multiple ways to share stories. But I want to give you a little more background on giving people not overwhelming your listeners. Because sometimes this could be like so overwhelming to think of, Oh, I have to tell my story now not just digitize my photos. So let me share with you. I think a lot of people think of their mountain of photos, than their mountain of stories is like sitting in front of them. And they don't know how to climb a mountain. They don't have the equipment, they don't have the training, they don't have the time, like how do I climb the mountain. So I think if you have a lifetime of photos, you don't feel like you can accomplish the organizing or the stories overnight, because it's a lifetime of photos. So it takes time. And what I suggest people do is chunk it up, chunk up your photo collection or chunk up your story. So my one of my favorite adages, and I think I've shared this with you guys before is I have a question for you. How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Thank you, KC Exactly. So if we have this mountain of photos in front of us, or we have our lifetime story, because we're 60 or 70, or 80 years old, we got to chunk it up, we can't eat that elephant in one bite, we got to do one bite at a time. So I can connect Ashley Allen to this, this podcast because she gave me a gift many many years ago. And it was a five year journal. Basically, it's a blank journal and you have one page for each date. And on each page, there's five years worth of opening, you know, lines that you could put five years worth of each date on that. To me, the gift right now that I'm getting is I'm in the fifth year. So when I went to journal on February 1, I can look back at the last four years of February 1 that tells me what was I doing? What was I feeling? What was I thinking, and it's a little snippet once again, chunking it up? I'm not writing pages and pages about each day, I'm writing little chunks. So that to me is a beautiful. And my last thing I'll say before we get into more stories is one of my favorite quotes is in the book of 1000 places to visit before you die. And in fact, Ray, I think you gifted me that book. It's an introduction. And the quote is, "there is no such thing as a bad trip. Just good stories to tell when you get home.

Ray Loewe  7:48  
Yeah, stories get better. The better the trip, the better the story,

Bonnie Shay  7:53  
the more memorable, right? So I want people to look at their lives, even if they think they don't have a story to tell they do.

Ray Loewe  8:03  
You're setting me up over here. So we're now we're talking about chunk up your stories that fit into the bubble of chaos that we talked about in the last podcast that we did KC. or separate. I guess it's separate. Yeah. Anyway, Bonnie. We've got so much to cover. So let's go in with a couple specifics. I know that you work recently with a client that was an older client, and you basically took some photos that she was in or she was involved with. And you interviewed this person. So tell us about the process. Tell us about what the mission was. And tell us about the results that you've got out of it.

Bonnie Shay  8:43  
Awesome. So yes, my client asked me to record his mom telling stories about some of the photos. And I already knew some of the stories because I had grown up with this family. And so we had about 20 different little vignettes that I wanted her to talk about. So we sat at a table together with my iPhone, I didn't use high tech equipment, I use my iPhone, and we recorded on a voice memo, her voice telling a story. And sometimes I prompted her with a follow up question because I knew there was a piece that she was omitting. And so she had fun just telling the stories, and you can hear it in her voice like she's like reliving this memory. So it was a gift to her to do that. It was a gift to her son and her grandkids because now they have mom's voice telling them stories. Maybe they've heard the story before. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they've seen the photo, maybe they didn't. And what I did was I took the audio track and the digitized photos and use iMovie which is the basic moviemaking program and made little one to three minutes snippets of these stories. And so they all sat around their TV one night a couple weeks ago and watch them and the wise was like a gift and it started conversations and so they added more stories. Just as they were sitting around the TV watching these little snippets, and there's just a beauty into hearing someone's voice and seeing a photo that they're talking about. And that's what we created.

Ray Loewe  10:12  
So so, this is something that anybody could do if you have older people in your family or even younger people, and you have photos that are interesting, take the photo and make it come to life with a story. Okay? And you don't need high tech equipment. And even though you're a pro with this, you don't have to be a pro to make it happen.

Bonnie Shay  10:33  
Exactly. And initially, I thought I want to videotape his mom doing the stories. But that was higher tech, and that would be distracting visually, because it's really about the photo. And so it was a perfect combination of senses to engage.

Ray Loewe  10:47  
Okay, now, you also told me that there are a whole bunch of tools out there, right? You mentioned me that you're taking a memoir, memoir writing class? Why tell us about that? How does, how does that fit into this kind of thing?

Bonnie Shay  11:04  
Well, because I'm getting practice on telling my own story. And I was introduced in the first class, the idea that someone might decide they're going to sit down or write their memoir, well, they think they need a whole week if they're going to sit down and write their whole memoir, because they're thinking I got to write my whole memoir. And they said, No, a snippet. And so what we do is in this class, and I'm going to encourage your listeners to take a class in the local wherever they are, or it doesn't have to be local, because we are on zoom all the time now is they give us a prompt for our class. So we have homeright homework. So today, the cry of class tonight, the prompts are fifth grade, friends and nicknames. So just in the beautiful part of that is that you don't have a blank slate that you're sitting down to our blank piece of paper a blank screen to like start writing your story. No, it got me right to exact stories. Fifth grade? Oh, yeah, I was friends with Mark Goodman. In fifth grade, we did this we did that I could capture. Once again, we're chunking it up in a memoir class by just saying, Okay, let's get a little slice of what I did. And what I who I was.

Ray Loewe  12:14  
So how important do you find the class the sharing the stories?

Bonnie Shay  12:21  
Um, well, the interesting twist on it was we all wanted to read our own stories, because in class, we were told that they were going to be read for us so we could listen. And we like, no, it's my story, I got to read it. But lo and behold, the teacher read it. And she said, because she wants us to listen and hear our own words being spoken by her. And then it's really it's like who such a simple thing, but it's powerful. And we all were asked to take notes so that we could give feedback, because there's nine of us in the class, we could each give feedback to each of each of the reading, you know, the person's. So we're getting good constructive feedback. And you just realized the value in your story.

Ray Loewe  13:07  
So there's lots of things that can help out there on the internet, right? You introduced me to something called Meaningful Photos. They were out in Berkeley. This was a nonprofit kind of thing. And it was just another way to get people to start telling their stories.

Bonnie Shay  13:26  
Exactly, yes. And you can take some photos and tell a story. It could be a new photo, it could be an old photo, it's timeless, you can do it in any part of your life.

Ray Loewe  13:37  
And if you need help with it, you can get other people to do that. So you were telling me about somebody who memoirs for me? Okay, this is somebody who will actually write your memoirs for you if you want.

Bonnie Shay  13:49  
Correct, she interviews you and then writes the memoirs. Exactly.

Ray Loewe  13:53  
Okay, now, I want to do an about face on you and put you on the spot. Okay. So we've been talking pretty much about somebody who is older, who has thoughts and memoirs writing about them. Okay, what can we do with stories the other way? Let's suppose that I'm a grandparent, I want to bond with my grandkids, you know, how can I create these memories with my grandkids involved in them? Any thoughts?

Bonnie Shay  14:29  
Well, I'll borrow the concept from you. Because when you and I were talking a couple weeks ago, you mentioned the idea of like, let's say I'm a grandparent, and I take my kids to the zoo. And we go for a day in the zoo, and we see all the animals and we take pictures. And I could write a book. And I'm just talking about a basic book for kids with a few photos and little captions to tell them about the story because maybe they were only two years old or four years old, and they're not going to remember in 20 years, but let's capture it and it's going to be a book. If They're in the book, kids always love their own picture we all do. So it's a gift that they can still read over and over again before bedtime whenever grandma and grandpa comes over

Ray Loewe  15:13  
and read when they're in their 20s to their grandkids, okay, because, again, it's a book about them. All right. And, and, and the stories go on, you know, we had Rebecca Hoffman on while ago, and she was telling about the power of a story told, well, what good story told well, and their stories are everywhere. So the whole idea is, how do we capture them? How do we help them, we take them to photos, we can write them in form of memoirs, we can go to a memoir writing class. You know, KC, you know, you did something with old family videos. Now. You've told the story before. So give us a short version?

KC Dempster  15:57  
Oh, oh, fine. Thanks. Yes, my, you know, growing up, my father had a 16 millimeter camera that he would take family movies, and we found out that he really was taken with our Christmas trees, because we have a million pans up and down of Christmas trees. But my sister had all of those reels of film. And she sent them away and had them digitized and sent out to all the brothers and sisters, there's seven of us. And so one night, I set up a zoom call, and everybody got on, and I played the video. And we all watched it together. And we're laughing. And, you know, our family's pretty spread out in age. So some of the younger siblings didn't know who some of the people in the earlier videos were. So we were telling them who they were. And, and it was really, it was a most enjoyable evening. And it went a little bit long, but it was great.

Ray Loewe  16:59  
Okay, so so let me bring this back to the luckiest people in the world. Okay, so we have this group of people who call themselves are the luckiest people in the world. And that's because they stay engaged, they make their own lives, they don't put up with rules that don't belong to them. And they, they want to keep going, you know, they don't want to sit down on their rear ends and let life just go by. And somebody gave me a quote the other day that's perfect for that. But it's that these people don't sit there and worry about aging. They instead think about life. So how do we add life to things and I think we've got a couple of good threads over here. Number one, if you are a senior citizen, and you want to tell people about you want to impart your wisdom to them, you know, how do you do it in an interesting way, so that people will actually read it and stay there. So Bonnie gave us some great ideas here, you know, you use the pictures, you use the word. I think the other thing here too, is how do you engage with your grandchildren? And how do you kind of tell a story that they'll be interested in? It's not your story anymore? It's our story. How do you get the whole family involved? And and I think what we're going to do as we move forward here is we're going to be talking a number of times, about how you do this from different perspectives. And it not all doesn't all work for everybody, you got to do it in different ways. I know the kind of work that Bonnie does. I I know if I wanted to be interviewed about a photo, she would be the one who would be interviewing me. And we would probably spend the entire day laughing.

KC Dempster  18:52  
Yeah. And, you know, I was gonna point out that, you know, generations ago, families pretty much lived around each other, there was not a lot of moving away. So kids growing up, were hearing oral history all the time. Because the the, you know, the adults would sit around and talk about things and kids Listen, and they absorb things even if they don't realize they are. But nowadays, we really do have to make more of an effort to to get that story out there. And so I love this idea of taking a picture and telling the story of it. I think that's a great idea. And the memory of just just picking one little era of your life or one experience and and telling the story makes it so much less daunting.

Ray Loewe  19:42  
Yeah, except I have this picture of trying to eat an elephant my head.

Bonnie Shay  19:49  
Ray, I'll get you a chocolate elephant and you'll have no problem. Except you'll eat the whole elephant, right? Well, you

Ray Loewe  19:57  
probably couldn't put it in a cup. Pour hot milk over marshmallows.

KC Dempster  20:03  
Well, Bonnie's not aware of that yet.

Bonnie Shay  20:07  
I've heard of it. I've heard of it. I want to tap on to KC, what you were mentioning, too, because a lot of my clients come to me and say, Bonnie, my daughter, my son, whatever, they don't want these photos, they don't care about the photos, whatever. I mean, many say there, they do, but some don't. And I explained to them that, you know, with my perspective, you know, in my 60s, each generation has a different perspective on photos, stories, videos, history, you name it, and it changes as you grow older. And the minute I had children, my appreciation of my parents as parents was totally different than when I was a kid. And then unfortunately, I lost both of my parents at very young ages. And so I did not have them to tell me the stories as I wished. So I'm just wanting to impart suggestions on people, even if you think your kids could care less about your photos. It's just because they're at a time in their life, that maybe they're so busy raising their own kids or working or whatever. But when you are gone, they will wish they had your story.

Ray Loewe  21:13  
And especially if you edit them down to a relatively small number of really meaningful photos, as opposed to the hodgepodge in the book. One of the things that we have now, this COVID stuff has been a pain in the rear ended on a lot of ways. But it's given us time to think it's given us time to work on these projects. And now's the time to take advantage of those things. We're going to be here for a little while yet and take the opportunity to create history one way or another add a good story, well told is worse. You know, somebody told me this a good story well told is worth 1000 words that doesn't quite fit

KC Dempster  21:56  
somehow. I think you're I think you're you're combining two sayings, but that's fine, because it's very meaningful.

Ray Loewe  22:02  
Well, well, but I can't even talk anymore. So Bonnie, thanks so much for being with us. And it's Bonnie Shay, Mariposa of for photo Right. Am I close? And it will be on our website in case you have questions for Bonnie or you need her services in any way. So have a great day, everybody and KC, what's happening, going? Well,

KC Dempster  22:30  
we want people to keep tuning into our podcasts. We're going to talk more about stories, we're going to talk about some other themes that were lining up. Because we we we want people to take control of their lives and and there's a lot of aspects to that. So keep coming back.

Ray Loewe  22:49  
Cool. And see you next week everybody.

Kris Parsons  22:53  
Thank you for listening to Changing the Rules, a podcast designed to help you live your life the way you want and give you what you need to make it happen. Join us next week for our next exciting topic on changing the rules with KC Dempster and Ray Loewe, the luckiest guy in the world