Resolving the half and half problem, a reflection by Emily Yang

Anyone could see the divide in the classroom. Half and half, American Field Service high school exchange students on one side, Duke undergrads studying Literacy Through Photography on the other. Some forms of hello were exchanged and names were passed around, but conversations were mostly happening within the two separate groups. Compared to the state of the classroom after the brief LTP workshop? Students from both groups were mingling freely, sharing stories, sprawled on the floor together coming up with funny photo captions… comfortable with each other and the cultural diversity that intimidated and separated us at the start. By the end of the workshop, we had embraced each other’s different perspectives, and it was wonderful.

Point of view is one of the core concepts of LTP. Holding the camera at eye level versus crouching and kneeling yields wildly different results in the final photograph. For example, in the “Yelling” photo, fitting in all three subjects required a long shot down the table, and this in turn highlighted the drama of the situation. Beyond the literal interpretation of how to compose a photograph, point of view emphasizes the value of self-expression and the importance of considering the different vantage points within each of our stories. What better way to experience this than through a cross-cultural exchange of ideas? An excellent example of this arose in collaborative effort to make a visual alphabet, which involved brainstorming and creating a photograph for verbs, nouns, or adjectives relating to a central theme (in our case, “Home”).

Our group was composed of Flora and I, two Duke students, and Josie and Paulina, two enthusiastic girls from Germany. We had a short time to photograph the list of words we’d generated, including “yelling” and “discussion.” After finding an empty classroom, Josie and Paulina proposed we host a mock argument. We had it all—explosive expressions, wild hand gestures, the works. However, when it came time to check this idea off the list, Flora and I realized we had misinterpreted the scene. We thought we had just photographed “yelling” while our German teammates thought it was “discussion.” Much laughter ensued, as well as descriptions of how two German family members ‘converse.’ We were amazed and eager to learn more about how the rules for each of our cultures were so different. Thus a cultural connection, LTP lesson and group bonding experience melded in our shared laughter and creative thought processes. Here was a solution to the “half and half” problem: having open and engaged minds work together to accomplish a creative project while maintaining an environment open to different cultural influences. After that, the two halves become one.

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