Representational Autobiconography

This was a surprisingly difficult assignment for me, mainly because I had very little faith in my ability to tell a story without words, especially in any sort of clever way. The “story of my life” felt so complicated and full of personally meaningful events that I didn’t think I could do it justice with mere pictures and icons. I know better now…

My first idea was to use images to draw a comparison between my parents’ upbringing (in Communist China) with my own, in Bezerkeley of all places. I ran it by my husband to see what he thought. “Sweetie,” he said, “I think you need a better theme.” (Or maybe he said, “You need a theme.” Ouch.) So back to the drawing board. I thought about using a graphic novel layout, or selecting images of famous paintings, even using my camera phone and a few Gumby figures to act out scenes. I also looked at a few sites, including this one. Finally, (I thought) I had it: my life in charts.

ParentstoryThe idea of using charts first came to me while trying to portray how, or rather, why my parents fell in love. This Venn diagram was probably the most successful slide in my presentation.

However, other facets of my story, like deciding to major in biology in college, or moving to NYC, didn’t translate well as a graph or a pie chart. So my presentation turned into a mish-mash of different styles…

Since I’m writing this entry several days late I thought I’d add some reactions to seeing my classmates’ presentations. First of all, I noticed that my presentation relied on actual pictures of my parents and me, while my classmates simply used iconic representations (and quite successfully!). Also, while I felt the need to have my images move, to add more details to the story and keep the narrative going, most of the presentations I saw used static “frames” — again, which definitely worked.

Overall, seeing everyone’s work showed me, without a doubt, that icons and symbols do have enormous potential to convey a lot of information and to carry a story, especially an autobiography, with its universal milestones and expectations: we all grow up, go to school, get a job, move around, experience love and loss, etc. When constructing my own story, I hadn’t factored in how much narrative structure and meaning had already been built into the assignment. I also hadn’t realized how naturally motivated we, as viewers, are to find the story, to match symbols to meanings, to make sense. Well, actually, I’ve probably read dozens of articles stating that this is the case. But in the end, what matters is putting all this knowledge into practice, which is why this was a great exercise for me to go through.


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