isolated tree in a field in Sussex
Isolated tree in Sussex

I started 2021 asking, how would society cope this year? I cannot believe that we are still at the mercy of this pandemic. It seems impossible to rise up from the mire of its rampage. 

It’s nearly National Storytelling Week and after reading a social media post by Boost Project founder Helen Zeida, “What are the silver linings that have come out of 2020 for you?”, I realised that 2021 is about highlighting silver linings. So even that battered and lonesome tree in the photo can stand strong.

Mainstream news fixation

Mainstream news continues to fixate on the harshest of stories, deliberately omitting the part of the narrative when someone has defeated a challenge. This is what we have come to accept as news. Does it have to be this way?

It’s noticeable that dwelling on the purely negative aspect of stories, makes us more afraid of living. Yet as we move through life, our story keeps on changing and developing. Our troubles will not last and neither will our accomplishments, so surely we are better off finding the positive and creating stepping stones to a better place?

Since working on the Generation Share book, I became alert storytelling from a fresh angle. Generation Share is about changemakers, it’s about sharing, caring and community. However each person in the book has had to push through many barriers to get their projects running.

Generation Share - a collage of global changemakers from the book
Generation Share Changemakers – photographed by Sophie Sheinwald

Accomplishment is something that’s earned through resilience and hard work. Which got me thinking,

“Which part of the narrative are we making visible?”

Good news anyone?

Over the past months, I’ve come across to so many people who say that they just switch off from the daily news. The constant stream death and failure to survive, with statistics to prove it. So what about other side to the stories?

What makes news, news?

According to Stuart Sorok’s article, Why do we Pay More Attention to Negative Rather than Positive News, “Newsstand magazine sales increase by roughly 30 percent when the cover is negative rather than positive.” he says humans may be “predisposed towards focusing on negative information”. However he suggests that this has its root in humans “deciding what to pay attention to”.

So if negative stories arouse more interest, how about we shape positive stories to be compelling and meaningful?

In contrast Curtis Brainard‘s article ‘What Kind of News do People Really Want?‘, he found that ‘on a national scale changes in coverage tend to mold public interest rather than vice versa’. He asks journalists to recognise their influence on the public and be more responsible. He also begs the question,

“Does a diet of more junk food create an appetite for more junk? Does a healthy diet create the reverse?”

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

One simple thing I’ve observed is, that we have the power to influence each other. It’s likely that you would accept a recommendation or news from a trusted friend. So how about we take responsibility to be positively influence others?

Powerful Stories

I spent most of 2020 on a project that flourished from an idea at the start of the first lockdown. I imagined beautiful portraits of nationwide healthcare workers, as a tribute to their hard work and dedication. Once I put a call out, hundreds of UK photographers contacted me to join me in collaboration. The 2020 Vision Project was born.

2020 Vision Project
2020 Vision Project – Behind the Masks – UK Covid-19 photographers’ collaboration

Over the summer, not only did we gather incredible portraits from photographers, but we collected incredibly powerful stories. We had examples of strength, adaptability, resilience and camaraderie throughout this Covid-19 project.

The photographers on board were assigned to capture healthcare workers behind the mask, but I didn’t realise how powerful the narratives could be. I and others who read them, couldn’t stop tears flowing.

Yet the stories weren’t necessarily negative, they were touching, honest and real. They showed the power of humanity.

When we exhibited 100 selected photos in London in September 2020, the response was incredible. Beautiful photos of hard working people alongside their stories of the struggle to overcome the tsunami of the pandemic.

In fact during our online exhibition during Christmas 2020 we had over a 600% increase in viewing these incredibly touching visual stories with a 28 minute viewing average. A reach for the ostove stoies?

Graph of stats showing a 600% increase in views in December 2020 from the 2020 Vision Project -Behind the Masks digital exhibition
Graph showing a 600% increase over Christmas 2020 for the 2020 Vision Project –
Behind the Masks digital exhibition.

Meaningful storytelling

Perhaps the quest for news could involve more of the meaning behind the story? In these studies of what type of news attracts, I do wonder what classifies as positive news? Sorok says, “physiologically speaking, a positive news story is not very different from the gray screen we show participants between news stories.”. Yet I find that when a story involves meaning, hurdles and struggles that are overcome – that is positive as it generates something about humanity I love – inspiration.

So for me 2021 is about silver linings. And here’s one to think about – as more and more people are seeking how to embody a positive mindset perhaps we can expect an increase in demand for positive stories.

#NationalStorytellingWeek – #GenerationShare – #2020visionproject

About the author

Sophie Sheinwald is an award-winning photographer, visual storyteller based in Brighton. She loves to unleash human potential with purpose-led, people-centred photography. Sophie combines her ability to connect, to bring out the inner shine of her subjects. She infuses her passion to help people and businesses create meaningful, mission-driven brands

4 thoughts on “Urm… hello 2021?

  1. What a wonderfully written and uplifting piece. I love the images and your inspiring projects. Thanks Sophie for highlighting our choice in this all. I have evidence of Curtis Brainard’s point about the reverse being true…seeking positive news swings the needle towards a healthy balance in life. In this way, we can create a ripple effect to counterbalance the tidal waves of negative news. Not negating it, just ensuring we see a full and broad perspective of our human experience. Let’s all go silver lining hunting!

    1. Yes let’s go silver-lining hunting! I would love you to share that evidence with me – agreed that “seeking positive news swings the needle towards a healthy balance in life” Xx

  2. What a wonderful project. It is so true that the news often focuses on the negative. The human aspect of how our healthcare workers are achieving miracles on a daily basis is a true silver lining.

    1. Thank you so much Sue. Yes healthcare workers are pulling off miracles. That’s why I love working on the 2020 Vision Project, I never quite knew how rewarding it would be highlighting these very important people .

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