LTP is for everyone, a reflection by Heather Hoffman

Public schools in our country aren’t really doing so well. Dropout rates are high, and even some of those who do receive their high school diplomas are left unprepared for college or the workforce, despite the government’s attempts to standardize schools. Having studied critical issues in education while at Duke, I was initially drawn to LTP as a way to reach struggling students, and to teach lessons much more valuable than any test preparation could. Incorporating LTP into the classroom gives students a voice, especially those who are not encouraged to express themselves at home or in school, and creates a safe environment for students to tell their stories. During our time at The School for Creative Studies, our first LTP internship site, I was amazed at the bravery of many of the students as they wrote about an injustice they had faced in their life. Their writing was eloquent, meaningful, and all their own.


During the Memories from Past Centuries project at Club Boulevard Elementary, we asked our students to study primary historical materials and then write narratives about slavery from perspectives of slaves, loved ones of slaves, and slave masters. Oliver’s story stuck with me from the first time he shared it, and as I got to know him in our small groups, his writing from the perspective of Clay Bobbit’s mother became even more powerful. He refers to Clay as “the mischief king,” getting “his fair share of cow hide across his back.” In addition to his vivid details, Oliver illustrates his emotional connection to the project when describing Clay’s sister’s death and how this changed Clay’s personality. Oliver closes his monologue with, “And every day, when the sun set behind the rolling hills, he would weep next to Deliah’s grave.”


My youngest child, Clay Bobbit 11 years old is the most stubborn child I ever came across and that’s saying something. He would disobey Massa Grant Bobbit’s orders and get his share of cowhide across his back. Sometimes, before he brings the food for white people, he picks some off for himself. Master Grant ain’t the only person that beats him. Cause in our cabin, Clay is the real prankster so sometimes he deserves a little smack to the ear. Just cause he’s the mischief king don’t mean I don’t love him. He may be the craziest one in the family, the craziest one I’ve known, but he’s still my son. My other two children, Henry and Deliah, are Clay’s role models ‘sides Jack (husband) and me.


Once Clay was ‘bout 15 years old his sister died of yellow fever. Since then Clay was never the same. He would obey Massa Grant Bobbit’s orders absentmindedly, following the rules no matter what and every evening when the sun set behind the rolling hills, he would get out and weep next to Deliah’s grave. We were like the dogs cleaning off the scraps of food the Master’s family didn’t eat. Clay started to get over his sister’s death…

Mountains of Creativity, a reflection by Christine Delp

Elijah didn’t want to write a Recipe for a Healthy Lifestyle, the LTP assignment for his 6th grade health class. He also didn’t want to draw a picture from his writing.

“I’ve done this before. This is so boring,” He said, sighing profusely, looking down at his blank piece of blue construction paper with defiance.

Like a handful of the DPS kids at schools where LTP is commonly practiced, Elijah had previously done an LTP workshop over the summer. His flippancy towards the project in his health class was at least partially derived from a sort of “been there, done that” attitude toward LTP.

After both Katie and I sat with him for a few minutes, encouraging him to think about what makes him happy that he could maybe include in the writing piece, Elijah begrudgingly picked up his pencil and completed the assignment, drawing a scene of mountains to accompany his written “ingredient”—10 hikes in the mountains.

A week later, when it was time to take pictures based on the previous week’s drawings, I expected Elijah to balk again at the task’s difficulty—there are no mountains in Durham, I thought nervously as we walked outside.

“There are no mountains in Durham,” said a boy in Elijah’s group, looking at the drawing.

“I know,” said Elijah. “But I can still take a picture.”

Positioning himself against a wooded area, Elijah passed the camera to the other boy, placed his hands on his fists, and threw his shoulders back. His expression settled into the same defiant expression I had seen a week earlier. But this time, his challenging look looked majestic and powerful rather than petty.

There he was, a mountain reconstructed from his own imagination.

The ability to abstract an idea into its very essence indicates a very high level of creative thinking. Elijah struggled with writing a few bullet points about how to live a healthy lifestyle, but when asked to take a photo that for many kids would have been challenging, Elijah thrived, envisioning an image that captured not a mountain’s shape or structure but its aura. And with this construction, Elijah embodied his mountain and his own creative power.

While Elijah may have already been comfortable with the picture-making side of LTP through his past experience at an LTP workshop, the contrast between his hesitancy for the writing assignment and his enthusiasm for picture-making reveals an astuteness for a different kind of creative thinking. Writing a few clever lines in a recipe format about what makes him healthy was clearly not his forte, as it was for many other students in the class. But he was clearly very skilled at another assignment that capitalized on a different type of creative thinking—abstraction.

Being creative is not all about writing or drawing something imaginative or original, although it’s often associated with such a limited understanding. For example, I remember in elementary school being called creative simply because I could draw well. Too often the definition of creativity is watered down to be synonymous with artistic, when in reality, as Elijah exhibits, there are a multitude of ways in which creativity may be expressed.

When we recognize the various types of creativity, we may better appreciate and cultivate the strengths of each student’s own creative flavor. Because of its flexibility and variety in possibility, Literacy through Photography allows children to exercise small moments of creative genius that might otherwise go hidden.

For more on this project click here

Thinking about thinking, a reflection by Michelle Stackmann

As I go again through the scans of the work created by Ms. Wash’s 7th grade class, I cannot help to be struck over and over by a particular girl’s work. The scan of her portrait revealed to me the power LTP has to build empathy, to allow seeing from different perspectives, and to lead to metacognitive thinking.

As an LTP intern at the School for Creative Studies this semester, I visited Ms. Wash’s class for two months. Twice a week, three more students and I went there to work with kids in an LTP project centered on Literature. The kids were each reading a classic they chose themselves. To incorporate LTP, we asked the kids to choose a character from the book they were reading and come up with a way to portray the character in a picture. This was a tough task: some kids had no idea where to start or what to portray about their character. Makayla, the girl depicted in the picture above, chose Jo from Little Women as her character. She decided to portray Jo reading because it’s what Jo loves to do the most. With each picture, we asked the students to write a short description on the character. Makayla’s description of Jo caught my attention because she was able to go above and beyond. Instead of just describing Jo’s actions and physical characteristics, she described the motives and intentions of Jo’s actions. She was able to tell us that Jo reads to forget the hardships of her life and to disconnect from reality by experiencing new settings though literature.

In this, I saw how powerful LTP could be to empathize with others and lead to think about thinking. LTP was the bridge that allowed Makayla to think the way Jo thinks and feel the way Jo feels. Moreover, the LTP activity we lead encouraged Makayla to get a deeper understanding of Jo’s actions and motives in Little Women. Without this LTP activity, kids might have only stuck to the obvious answer of describing their characters superficially and would have not had the opportunity to practice thinking about things from different perspectives.

For more on this project click here

Fiction and Fire, a reflection by Nadia Viscuso

In books, we often lose ourselves in other realms and seek to escape, often too bored or unamused by the life we deem as “reality.” Justice explores the idea of bringing fiction to our reality by using collaboration with his peers to bring fiction to his reality. He is taking Smaug the magnificent and terrifying dragon out of J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit and crossing it over to his realm. Turns out, photographing mythical creatures like Smaug can be quite the challenge. So then what should Justice do? Find another idea?


Who is Smaug?

Literacy Through Photography seeks to foster creativity in children, extending past linear thinking bounds, and flexibly finding new ways and ideas of responding to the world. As Justice and his peers are challenged with the task of photographing a dragon, they cleverly use their understanding of the physique and cultural aspects associated with dragons. Faced with the conundrum of forming a long slender body of a dragon, Justice and his classmates thought of possibilities to lengthen their bodies, and what better way than to link their bodies together. Because playing with fire is not an option for young children, the problem of depicting Smaug’s fire was solved as the students sought to find some object that is red and unbound in its shape. To represent flight, the students decided it was best to hoist themselves up on chairs rather than lay on the floor. In the presence of the obstacle of bringing fiction to life, the students are able to use multi-dimensional thinking and creativity to represent a dragon’s body and his story. The task could not be accomplished without the collaborative work of the students. In this way, LTP provides a progressive educational setting in which cooperative learning allows for the development and production of student ideas.

Through cooperative learning, Justice and his peers allow their viewers to understand who Smaug is. Smaug ignites fear in those who dare challenge him and take what is his. His lanky body slithers like a snake and engulfs his victims. His amorphous red fire is his source of power and control and he breathes it on the foolish boy who questions his might.

                                                  Who is Justice?


An observer of the photo would not be able to tell that the kids are depicting a mythical dragon. This in no way means that they did a poor job on the project assignment. Rather, they excelled. One of the greatest things about photography is the endless possibility of stories that can be associated with a photo based on its details. Through photography, they say that a picture is worth a thousands words. Yet, Justice holds the power, the control over the story depicted in this photo. With his written word, he guides his audience through his imagination and sets them free to roam. LTP allows students to explore the world through photography, which they use to facilitate written expression. Through LTP, we see this untamed outflow of ideas and inspiring thoughts that are born from previously learned concepts and observations and developed into new ideas and depictions. Through the terror Smaug ignites in the eyes of those who foolishly challenged him, you can see how the fire of ambitious writing flows out of Justice much like it flows out of a dragon. And that’s when you realize, that LTP allows Justice to become Smaug. So in this photo, we can physically see Justice as a part of Smaug, and we can understand his transformation into a dragon unleashing his expression onto the world.

For more on this project click here

The Creation of Smaug, a reflection by Betsy Mansfield

Working with Ms. Wash’s class at the School for Creative Studies was an adventure to say the least. The class had so much personality and energy and it was always a great wake up when we went in at 9am. My group consisted of four boys who had a fair bit of energy but also had a huge amount of creativity, which was a lot of fun. Rambunctious is the best way to describe them. While they sometimes liked to focus more on acting out the scenes from Robin Hood, rather than pose for the photos, whenever they got behind the camera they became serious and focused. Overall the experience was a great time, and each student’s picture was so expressive. The amount of creativity each student had was remarkable, and it was really fun to see all of the photos come together. However, there was one that really stands out in my mind regarding both the process and the end product.

Literacy Through Photography (LTP) is all about creativity and promoting it within the classroom, and this project definitely called for a heavy dose of it. When Justice first told me he wanted his character to be Smaug, from The Hobbit, I was a little doubtful. I was unsure about the success we would have with illustrating a character portrait of a dragon; not only was his character not human, it was a mythical creature that was supposed to be huge, have wings, and breathe fire. Needless to say we had our work cut out for us.


Working with the available props and his imagination, Justice explained what he wanted and direct his group mates into position. It turned out remarkably well. He captured both the size of the character and the fear that he induces in others. The picture is expressive and illustrative, but I think my favourite part of this piece is the writing that goes along with it. Justice is extremely smart and very talented, and that definitely shows in this piece of work. His narration that went along with the piece really added to it. It told a story, and didn’t just narrate the photo. With his writing you could tell that Justice really understood the essence of the character. He was able to convey confidence and strength as well as he secrecy and territoriality that the character possesses. The added dialogue enhances the writing by adding to the story and showing us what the character is thinking. LTP isn’t for everyone- others struggle with the creative photo side or the writing side, but for Justice it was perfect. He had an outlet for creativity, which allowed him to narrate and illustrate something incredible. Both his picture and writing were very strong and very powerful. Justice was not the exception in Ms. Wash’s class, but the norm; every student was excited and passionate about their work. When we started this project I was excited to see the end results, in my mind I thought of the illustrations I would make from my favourite book characters, little did I know that I would be so moved and amazed by the incredible work put out by the students.

For more on this project click here

Tiayona On Fire, a reflection by Avery Lennard

“God punish that Harriett Tubman,” Tiayona declares emphatically as she waves her arms around and stomps her foot. I look on as she performs her fiery Stagville narrative for the camera. She doesn’t miss a beat as she goes through her minute-long monologue acting as a slave master. Not only is her performance passionate—I am struck by the maturity of her prose. “I didn’t mean to sell his pappy, I got drunk and bet him, may God spare me,” she says quickly at one point before moving on to speak with an imagined slave capturer. I can feel the distain she has for the Union by her concluding insults about Abraham Lincoln.


Working with Ms. Roach’s class at Club Boulevard Elementary School has been a fantastic experience. The Memories Through Past Centuries project has given students the opportunity to engage with America’s past by examining interviews with former slaves and developing their own narratives. I was impressed by all of the students, but Tiayona’s final narrative was remarkable. I was blown away by the passion she expressed and by how well she understood the complicated dynamics of slave-master relationships.


When I first started working with Tiayona, I feared that she would not be able to engage with this project because she has such a big personality and is easily distracted. I did not think she would connect with her narrative on an appropriate level, but I was completely wrong—Tiayona’s natural enthusiasm is what brought her performance to life. I love seeing how her energy, which can be distracting in some classroom settings, was so valuable for this project. I value the LTP approach as a way to draw upon personality traits that other teaching styles fail to engage.
For more on this project click here

Secret Showcase, a reflection by Taylor Shepard

Literacy Through Photography projects are designed to empower students to think creatively and to surround students with a safe environment in which to do so. As an LTP intern The School for Creative Studies I worked with 6th graders who designed sample ads for businesses they imagined founding. Here, Eli’s sample ad for singing lessons embodies the process of opening up to the creative possibilities at hand and conquering vulnerabilities.


As a group of us walked around the school snapping pictures and taking care of their projects, Eli tacitly figured out what she wanted. Once we made it outside, I saw the wheels turning in her mind and she began to piece together her vision for her photograph. Sensing that she was starting to panic in the presence of a few boys on the field, I asked her what she would feel comfortable doing; she said actually wanted to sing out loud, just not in front of her classmates. Just as her vulnerability manifest itself little by little, Eli slowly opened up as we talked about what singing means to her. In the middle of the field, once the boys were sent back to the classroom, we talked about her song choice from Frozen and I was able to coax her out of her shell enough to sing in front of me (after thoroughly embarrassing myself by demonstrating my lack of singing talent). Eli’s mouth opened up and melodies poured out as I adjusted the camera for the framing she had requested. As soon as the camera clicked, her cheeks flushed and the greatest grin stretched across her face; in that moment, she was proud, as she should have been. LTP allowed the two of us to connect in spite of insecurities and urged both of us to be comfortable in our own skins.


The picture we achieved is not particularly telling of such a struggle, but I think the best part of the process is that the final product doesn’t have to reflect the same meaning or story to everyone. These pictures succeed in relatability because they invite all viewers to apply their own interpretation and personal experience to the image at hand. Eli put so much of herself into every detail of her final piece, from her clear love of the color purple to her preference for natural simplicity. Placing her writing portion in a hand-made microphone was a creative way to incorporate her theme in an understated manner. Knowing this what a labor of love this task was to Eli, it was really gratifying to witness her work. Allowing Eli the opportunity to create something so intimate, this LTP activity encouraged her to open up and truly apply herself to the final project.

For more on this project click here