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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Soka University Japan - Transcend Art and Peace
Created: July 31, 2003
Latest Update: July 31, 2003
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Site Teaching Modules Writing for a Photo Essay

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, July 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Reading and Looking Assignment:

Professor Brian's Tour of Washington State University A beautifully done photo essay, of the kind I wish one of you would try with our own local campuses.

Putting Together a Photo Essay:

Do you have photographs from a fun occasion you or your family or friends would like to remember? Or is there a topic that interests you about which you can gather a few pictures from magazines or newspapers, whatever? Or do you have a favorite something you could bring and share with us? You know, like show and tell in elementary school, though they didn't have that in my day.

Sort out a few of the best photos or you favorite marbles. Put them in an order that will let you tell a story.

Then intersperse them with the story, as Professor Brian does with his trip around Washinton State University. That's not exactly a world-shaking topic: my campus. But I followed it along, in part from the pleasure of the scenes and the story line. I loved his comments on the sculptures. I could just imagine all the hullabaloo.

Greg brought us a picture of his dog. I've forgotten Greg's full name. But I haven't forgotten the dog. And if Greg came back, I would know him immediately, and remember his dog.

Why is that? Well, knowing what year I'm in, or what my major is, or what my GPA is, doesn't really tell you anything about me, who I am. And it's very hard to get at identity in a classroom where we have other tasks. Why do we want to get at identity? Because learning is part of your identity. And we learn more effectively when we can engage in real academic discourse. And it really is easier to engage in real academic discourse with real people we "know," even if just a little. Now that our classes are large, making ourselves notice each other as real people is even more important than it used to be when we had very small classes. We don't want you to graduate as a student number, but as a real human acquaintance.

Hot clue:

If you're timid and not to eager to speak out, just read your story and show your pictures or marbles or dog or whatever. Maybe one of you has a favorite teddy bear. I have a favorite camel. The object is to just share a small piece of you, not scare you to death. A book, a poem, whatever. But share. Depending on class size, we won't have but a moment or two. And what you're sharing is your choice; we're not asking for major confessionals, please.

Late one semester in a juvenile deliquency class, with a group of students who had been sharing throughout the semester, a young woman suddenly announced her despair over her mother's presence at graduation. Personal. We aren't really equipped for group therapy, kids. But because we knew each other, at least a little, everyone welcomed her concern warmly, at which point she explained that her concern was over her mother's boyfriend who had raped her. She had been taken from the home in her borother's custody. Wow! None of us was ready for this. Me, most of all, because I felt responsible for us all. To my amazement, several other young women offered her understanding based on similar experiences, and her despair was lightened by the whole situation. I DO NOT recommend this. Trauma needs counselors present. But, you know, sometimes trauma just isn't willing to wait for an appointment. One of the reasons I want you to know each other "at least a little" is so that you will have the capacity as a learning community to deal kindly and gently with trauma if it does occur. Learning is a lot like therapy. As you begin to discover theoretical bases for some of what happens, sometimes it just bubbles to the top of your apperceptive mass, and demands to come out. That's what therapy is all about, helping you draw out the pain by seeing it in a different perspective and wrestling it in a new social context. So when we ask you to share stories and/or mementos with each other, we're asking you to empathize, which clearly that class had done.

Using Your Photo Essay as a Learning Tool:

We're going to take class time to share our photos and our stories. Don't read them, unless you really need that support. We're a large group, so please share just a few photos or whatever, so that everyone will have a chance to share. At the end of our sharing, we're going to ask you to write a paragraph or do a drawing on what you've learned from our show and tell session. Somehow, I have a feeling those paragraphs and drawings will lead to more sharing in the next class.