As it turned out, Ms. Torrence was a legend in the world of storytelling. I’d been in the presence of greatness. I wouldn’t learn this though until the first time I attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee in 1999. After three days at the festival I was hooked all over again and have been attending the festival every year since.
The storytelling festival has taken place in Jonesborough since 1973. It’s an invitation to unplug, slow down, and do nothing but listen. Five giant tents are set up throughout the city and each becomes a venue for storytellers of styles from traditional folk tales to contemporary, personal naratives.
Until just a few years ago photography was not permitted in any of the storytelling sessions. Recognizing that social and digital media are firmly implanted in our culture as forms of storytelling, festival organizers now allow photography at some of the performances.
Taking still images that portray an art form that depends largely on voice and movement is an interesting challenge. It’s temping to set the camera to burst mode, fire away, and choose the best frames later. This is a bad habit I find myself occasionally falling into. For this series of photos I turned off all of the auto functions on my camera and committed to slowing down, unplugging, listening, and doing my best to capture images that represent the stripped down beauty of a performer holding an audience in their hand with nothing more than words.