There are places in this world that strike memories. Everyone has their own childhood, their own beliefs and their own mark on this world. Every moment, every experience, has a chance to live forever, with the click of a shutter. This opportunity is far more widespread in today’s society, and every human now has a collection of photos that define who they are, who they were, and the times they’ve had.

You are invited into a collection that recalls moments of childhood spent with someone who inspires love and emphasizes faith.

You are welcomed into the house of loved ones. Go ahead and walk up the steps, and be eagerly greeted by those who are proud to see you grow more every day in your life. This is a sanctuary, a place to go when parents say “no,” and the entrance towards all of your wildest adventures thus far.

Speaking of entrances, this used to be the entrance to the almighty toy shop, a huge favorite among children. Thousands of young ones would pour into this store each and every day, gazing at this entrance sign as if they lived here themselves. There was a whole new world in there, filled with imagination, possibilities, and many kids getting on their knees, praying that grandma or grandpa will make that purchase for them.

Think about all the prayers you’ve made as a child, sitting on your bed with your grandparents beside you, making sure you were under the security of God before turning off the lights. Though you may think you are trapped in darkness, the reality is that grandma is just around the corner, getting some great deals on jewelry while always willing to come to your aid. As a child who lays in bed, you are reminded of the Lord looking down to you, reinforcing that everything is going to be alright, and if it isn’t, then you run to the warm and friendly grasp of your grandmother’s arms.

Having a grandmother who worked at an ice cream chain like Friendly’s meant many ice cream trips as a child, which is almost always a given. Next to toys, sweets were the next best thing, and no matter the season, no matter the time of day, ice cream was always on the mind, and made for a wonderful adventure between you and your grandma…even if the adventure was a 5-10 minute drive. Your grandma made her mark at this place, and she wouldn’t let you forget it, or your order.

Marks were made in plenty of other places, too. Physical marks can be seen at the beach, where the numerous crevices in the sand highlight the plenty of hot summer days spent on the shore. You would beg to go deep in the water, but grandma can’t see very far, and you were thus stuck near the shore, collecting shells and building sandcastles. On the rare occasion, you would convince her to come in the ocean with you, but as soon as she would fall on her rear end she’d get up and go back to her towel, exclaiming that she’s as delicate as a flower.

When the sun is bright, the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming, sometimes the best way you and your grandparents would spend the time is by going to a local diner because you know there is no other place on Earth that makes a better breakfast. Whether you’re a toddler going to the restaurant for the first time, or a grown college student getting picked up and going primarily to get a break from school meals, a free breakfast at a diner provided by your grandparents is always the move. They always knew where to find the most scenic places with gardens that will make any soul lively.

Going to church is meant for you to heal your soul from all the sins you have committed. Whenever you go, you are reminded of why you believe in faith, you are reminded of those you have lost and you are reminded to love those who are still around, because you just never know what life has in store tomorrow. You can develop a great appreciation for such love and life just by looking through a fence.

As you look through a fence, you can see the beauty in nature while you walk around the local park right by your grandparent’s. The trees are everywhere, surrounding the park and filling the air with life. The fountains are on full display, making elegant designs and inspiring imagination from everyone. Above all else, however, is the castle, a building once thought to be entirely mystical and historical, but is now a reality, and represents high achievement and a life worth living. Going with your grandparents to see something like this was always a treat, and was one of the finest adventures you’ll ever have.

Your childhood was worth living because of them, and their life was worth living because of you. And while she may no longer be around, you still have hundreds of photos of her, thousands of memories of her, plenty of places you went with her, and countless stories he will tell you about her. So, in that sense, is she really gone?

As a child, one of the greatest honors in life is to have a set of grandparents who love you no matter what, who enjoy spending time with you and are genuinely fun to be around. Gone too soon, she was, and still is, the beacon of light in our family, and her memory will live through this family for generations to come.

About the Process

Believe it or not, this project took me quite a while to come up with. For a better part of the week, I was struggling to come up with a topic, and I had no idea what story I wanted to tell. Eventually, though, I decided to focus this story on my grandmother. She was a very important figure in my life and I figured I’ll try to tell a story that revolves around her. Over the weekend I travelled across the state to various locations I would go with her and shot some pictures. Once I got back I chose the nine I wanted to include in this post and in what order they should appear. My goal was to write a photo essay and to tell a story without using the word “I,” so I decided to use the word “you” instead because I figured that would make it more relatable to anyone reading this. With the images, I wanted “to make images that matter to the specific story, rather than seeking visuals afterward that ‘fit‘” (Dahmen). Because of this, I went out shooting with a vague idea in mind: take any photos or images that make me think of my grandmother. This way, I won’t be seeking my pictures after coming up with the story, but rather forming a story with the images I have already taken. I believe that going about it in this way makes the images much more impactful for the reader. This also helped me achieve my goal of creating a meaningful photo essay. Eman Shurbaji emphasizes that the writing and the text both advance the narrative, while the photos are clear enough to tell the story without needing the text to be there. I believe that the order of my photos tell the same story that I wrote: the first photo lets you know that this is about your grandparents, then the various photos about religion and footprints and whatnot give the viewer a clue that this is either memories being played back or reminiscing the loss of your grandparents, up until the final image reveals that only one grandparent is alive today.

These photos can enter a wide range of categories, according the Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. The first image clearly shows love, as the sign is shaped like a heart. The second image of waiting to enter Toys R Us displays anticipation. The rest of the images show a mix between love and trust, while the final image may include sadness depending on who looks at this and how they interpret it. Overall, these the first eight images can be categorized as a mixture between joy and trust, which add to love, whereas the final picture, in my view, is the combination of trust and fear, or submission. I was fearful of her eventual passing, but I trust that she’s in a better place now, and I thus submit to the reality of her not being here with us anymore.

I believe that these images can be described as simple, if nothing else. This may actually be more preferable, as Hugh Watson claims that even the fanciest visualizations may look attractive, but lack any value beyond their looks (Watson, 7). I wanted these pictures to be as valuable as possible, so as many people can relate to them as possible, and if I had to make them simple enough so people can interpret them more easily, then so be it. These photos can also be analyzed as having achieved some of the pillars of visual storytelling. These pictures are authentic because of how up-close-and-personal they get with their subjects, and are transparent enough to where if you keep looking through the images, they will reveal the true story behind them (Lien). These images are also primarily used to generate a sensory response from those viewing (Lien), as I intended to let my viewers reminisce on their own childhood while looking at images that makes me remind me of my own.

These images use a variety of design principles. The first two utilize the closure principle because the important aspects of the photos are enclosed in a box or shape, and thus a part of the same group of emphasis (Busche). The next three images all follow the figure-ground principle, as the cross, milkshake, and footprints are all in focus and at least visible, and separate themselves from their background (Busche). The images of the flowers and the church follow the paralellism principle, where the elements in focus are sloped the same way, which creates the group among those elements (Busche). The image of the fountain and castle follows the closure principle like the first two, and the final image of my grandfather with a picture of grandmother follow the proximity principle, where the two elements are part of the same group if they are close together (Busche).

I used a few techniques when making this photo essay. I’d say the two most important factors I used were composition and lighting. I needed to see light creatively and to seek out not only light, but the shadows in order to create effective images (Gitner, 14). The image of the cross, my grandfather, and the shake were the three most affected by light. I needed to mess around with system settings in the camera to get the lighting I wanted with the milkshake. The sun was at the right point where the side of the building I was shooting on was full of shadow, but not too harsh of a shadow where I couldn’t see the logo anymore. I closed up all natural light for the image of the cross, and messed with ceiling spotlights for the final image of my grandfather. The plan was to spotlight the image of my grandmother (whom the story is primarily about) while keeping my grandfather somewhat in the shadows. I believe these lighting arrangements made for photos that would not have been as effective if lit differently. I also wanted my images to be well composited, and the best way to do that was to make them feel three-dimensional. Mike Davis claims that making images feel three-dimensional involves using a triangular composition form so the three points of interest in an image form a triangle (Gitner, 18). A few of my images, including the one with the castle, the flowers and the beach all are triangular in a way, and capturing those while also utilizing a shallower depth of field allowed me to add even more depth to the images.

Overall, I’m very happy with the images I got. I was worried that I may not be able to tell a story with them, but I guess I did not need to worry; it seems like they told the story all on their own.

Works Cited

Bushe, Laura. “Simplicity, Symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to.” Canva, 2020.

Dahmen, Nicole. “How to do Better Visual Journalism for Solutions Stories.” Mediashift, 22 Nov, 2017.

Gitner, Seth. Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World. Routledge, 21 Jul, 2015.

Lien, Jade. “The Four Principles of Visual Storytelling.” Action Graphics, 21 Nov, 2019.

“Putting Some Emotion into Your Design – Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.” Interaction Design Foundation, July 2020.

Shurbaji, Eman. “Photo narratives – Defining picture stories, essays and packages.” Medium, 17 Dec, 2014.

Watson, Hugh J. Data Visualization, Data Interpreters, and Storytelling. Business Intelligence Journal, 2017.


  1. Hi Gabe! I really enjoyed your photo essay. The introduction was so compelling that I wanted to see what was coming next, and after every image, I wanted to see the next one and the next one. You took some amazing pictures. I think your use of “you” instead of “I” created a bond between myself and the article. It made me think about my own Grandmother. Explaining your process of how you decided what you were going to do was intriguing. This was an extremely powerful and vulnerable story and your pictures were the highlight of the article. I’m glad you shared this with us.


  2. Gabe, it’s clear that you put much thought and care into writing the captions and composing the shots in this photo essay. From first glance, there’s a cohesive quality about your photos in the emotions they evoke. Your ability to shoot for emotion and have that develop what the story would become was definitely apparent. I see a loving relationship between a child and a grandparent and a sense of unwavering faith. There’s a clear overall topic and theme and both your narrative in combination with these images drive the story— the true definition of a photo essay. As I was reading, I able to view the story from multiple sides because your information wasn’t repetitive and the words complemented the photos (and vice versa). As with the WED philosophy of journalism, you exemplified this by combining writing, editing, and design to tell a more powerful story. You’ve taken us to these special places and we as viewers can sense that this loving presence lives on through memories and future generations. Your written process is extremely detailed as was your reference to the design principles used in composition, lighting, shadows and visual motifs. Honestly, I’m struggling to find something that you could improve on.


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