When Photos Do the Writing

Although we don’t live in New York, we’ve been in a decidedly New York State of mind this summer. After a glorious stay in Lake Placid, it was time for our annual visit to Ithaca, the place my aunt and uncle have called home for decades. My mom has taken the girls there every year since they were toddlers. For the past couple of years I’ve joined them. This year, for the first time in a very long time, my husband also came for a few days.

One of my favorite things about travel is that it’s so visual. Although I love to write, I occasionally need breaks from it. I tend to put pressure on myself when I don’t have a concrete idea for a blog post at the ready, reluctant to let too much time go by without publishing new content lest my legions of followers give up on me (ok, maybe not legions, but as writers, we must have aspirations, no?).

Sometimes, however, my brain is simply empty. Or too full. Or too tired to think too hard.  Do you know that feeling? It’s not quite writer’s block or burnout, although it resembles those afflictions. It’s more like lassitude. And the dog days of summer don’t help.

When I’m away, however, I find that the photos I take do the talking for me. They often create the narrative I’m trying to find. And before I can form a sentence, the cells of an essay are born.

This past week, while Sophie built robots and rockets and Chloe discovered her inner poet at Cornell University’s summer camp, we adults galavanted around the region, taking excursions to a few places I’d never been or hadn’t visited in a very, very long time.

You may wonder what I did to find my inspiration in Ithaca, besides admire the gorges, that is. Here are the highlights.

(1) I basked in the seemingly limitless expanse of Cayuga Lake while reading a perfect summer page turner.

Cayuga Lake
Cayuga Lake

(2) I took long, rambling walks up and down hills on and near the lovely Cornell University campus, which offers an eclectic mix of old and new architecture. It also boasts the Cornell Plantations, acres upon acres of beautiful botanical gardens managed by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Cornell Plantations
Cornell Plantations

If you have a dog, he will likely be just as enchanted with the scenery as you.

Truffle at Cornell
Truffle will be applying to Cornell in the fall.

(3) The Finger Lakes region has become the east coast’s version of Napa Valley. We checked out a couple of the wineries that line the hills above Cayuga and Seneca lakes. If you like hard cider, beer or gin, breweries and distilleries also dot the landscape.

Lamoreaux Landing 2
View from Lamoreaux Landing
Lamoreaux Landing
Grapes at Lamoreaux Landing
Chateau Lafayette Reneau
Chateau Lafayette Reneau

(4) We almost took a boat ride on Seneca Lake. Although we didn’t actually board a vessel this year, we found the perfect schooner excursion for next time.

Seneca Lake
Seneca Lake Pier in Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen 2
Watkins Glen

(5) We took a drive to the Corning Museum of Glass, which has just opened a gorgeous new contemporary gallery building. It turns out the museum is a one-stop shop for all manner of items:

a haute couture dress

Corning Museum of Glass
“Evening Dress with Shawl” by Karen La Monte

a new cottage in the country

Corning Museum of Glass (House)
“It’s Raining Knives” by Silvia Levenson

a Baroque flask

Heraldic Flask
“Heraldic Flask” by Ignaz Preissler, early 1800s

a tire

Corning Museum of Glass (Tire)
“Tire” by Robert Rauschenberg

a petting zoo

Corning Museum of Glass (Animals)
“Constellation” by Kiki Smith


Do you find that photography fills a void when you have trouble finding words? What images inspire you?

11 thoughts on “When Photos Do the Writing”

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rachel. So true – sometimes, less is more when it comes to the written word – and I need to remember that and also use my photos more frequently as writing prompts when I’m struggling to come up with ideas for essays.

  1. Lovely post, and an encouraging idea. I recently took a vacation, along with a break from writing, and did a lot of photography. It recharged my batteries. Glad to hear there are others out there who’ve had the same experience.

    1. Thanks so much, Ann! It feels so good to take a break, doesn’t it? And I’ve really enjoyed photography more since I’ve started to focus more seriously on my writing. Have you had that experience, too?

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Bill. It is lovely up there, particularly in the summer. It was nice to see a couple of new things this go ’round, too. The Corning Museum of Glass is just spectacular.

  2. Yes! As a matter of fact, I’ve been using photos more and more lately on my blog. And not just when I can’t find the words (which is also helpful) but to compliment them when I can. 🙂 These are gorgeous.

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