Our American Alphabet Project, a reflection by Ami Kabadi

The purpose of the alphabet project is to think about defining a specific idea and then figure out how to capture that idea in a series of photographs. Our group was assigned “The American Alphabet.” We first had to brainstorm things/concepts that are distinctly American (one for each letter of the alphabet). Then we had to figure out a way to capture those ideas in photographic form.

Upon first getting the assignment, I have to admit that I wasn’t at all excited. It seemed simplistic, childish and pointless. I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, it isn’t easy to think of a single word or idea to describe the US (especially for odd letters like Y, Z, and X). Secondly, it was challenging to plan how to capture an idea in a photo. How do you portray “American” without words?

The lack of instruction allows for so much creativity. And I didn’t realize how much I missed doing creative projects. Unless you take an art class at Duke, I feel that there are very few artistic outlets available in the classroom. Typically, we are creative with words in papers, not with visual representations.

The first half of our American alphabet was shot in the US and the second in Tanzania. Looking back, it is interesting to see differences in those from the US and those from here in Tanzania. The pictures shot at Duke include many people outside our group. We had free reign to use anything and everything we could find. In no way were we hesitant to approach strangers and ask them to pose (in a sometimes strange manner). But in Tanzania our photo subjects are much less diverse. I believe all the people in the photos are from our group and many of the pictures were taken in our apartments. This is a reflection of the social situation here in Tanzania. Unlike in the US, taking pictures is not always socially acceptable. Some people get angry or offended being photographed without asking permission (someone in our group was actually given the finger for doing so). Many, when asked, will only let you take their picture if paid a fee. Thus, in order to take photos in public, we many times feel the need to ask permission, which may ruin the moment or idea we were trying to capture.

We wish were could post the entire alphabet, but for now, three photos will have to do. A few memorable pieces of our American Alphabet:

1) Diversity: diversity is an idea that we feel cannot be disassociated from the idea of American. In our group of students on this trip, we represent three of the continents. It is the mixture of different cultures that makes American unique.

2) Ice cream: Ice cream is not an “American” item, but it is something that is close to the heart of Americans. Many children who have grown up in the US have fond memories of the ice cream truck and associate ice cream with their childhood.

3) Reality TV: This photo and idea speaks for itself. No other nation that I am aware of is as fascinated with watching the ridiculous lives of American crazies. From Real World to The Hills the American public loves to watch “real” drama.

It’s important to use each individual photo in our alphabet as only a piece of what defines America. Any one word, idea or visual provides a very slanted view.

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