Members of the community enjoy the Telling Tales exhibit at the McNay Art Museum
Six Trinity Student Writers Master Six Words
McNay Art Museum exhibit features poems of English professor’s students to describe photos
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

When the McNay Art Museum was curating an exhibit of photographs that tell a story, organizers asked Jenny Browne, associate professor of English at Trinity University and Poet Laureate for the city of San Antonio, to provide words for the images.

In turn, Browne invited students in one of her creative writing classes to bring to life the commission from the McNay by writing six-word stories about the works of 17 photographers whose works appear in Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography at the museum through Jan. 15, 2017.

The result is red-inked six-word stories liberally placed next to photographs in the special exhibit. The six-word stories include the names and class years of each of the six Trinity students who contributed to the project. In some cases, the six words explain or enhance the images. In others, the six words are whimsical.

Browne said the museum shared a catalog of the photographs before the exhibit opened. She urged the students to examine the photographed relationships between people and between objects. “I told them, ‘You can’t write about the whole thing, so pick out some aspect of the photo,’” Browne said, adding with emphasis, “Because you only have six words.”

The creative project also meshes with one of her goals as Poet Laureate – and that is to engage the public in literature, she said.

The engagement had a profound effect on one of the students, Briauna Barrera ’17, a San Antonio student double majoring in urban studies and environmental studies, with a minor in creative writing.

“The first time I came in here and saw my words on a wall in a museum, it was like an out of body experience,” Barrera said. “People have been making crafts for years and years and years – or they are even dead – and they are in a museum. To be a college student and have my words on a museum wall is a humbling, incredible experience.”

Narrative photography is used to tell a story, and in some of the McNay photographs, the events being depicted were staged with actors. Some express social commentary. And others beg for explanation.

On the surface, one photograph is a day in the life of an Asian restaurant. The accompanying six-word story by Derek Hudson ’19, is “Egg drop soup. Bombs drop too.”

Kate Carey, director of education at the McNay, said she wanted the six-word stories to function as a “jumping off point” for interpreting the photographic artwork. “If a story read as a caption, we didn’t choose it,” she said.

In addition to Barrera and Hudson, the other student writers are: Megan Allen ’19, Brianna Azua ’19, Julia Camp ’18, and Michael Garcia ’19.

In her description of the project that is posted at the beginning of the exhibit, Browne noted that the stories are a form of ekphrasis, a Greek word for “marking art about art.” She discussed the photographs in terms of their cause and effect, tone and time, and irony and surprise. When anyone got stuck, Browne drew from the metaphor of what important items would you grab to take with you if your house were on fire. She said, “If you can only take one line with you, what will it be?”

Susie P. Gonzalez helped tell Trinity's story as part of the University communications team.

You might be interested in