While thinking about my LTP experience I found myself the most connected to our project on the Walt Whitman poem, Song of Myself. We spent two weeks working with middle school students. Using Song of Myself as a platform, we had discussions, created images and made connections. This project reminded me what I love about working with youth. Young people are so fresh and curious, full of thoughts and questions. When they let this shine through, like they are able to do through LTP, something beautiful happens. I have chosen four photos that ring true to what I witnessed and experienced during my time working with Professor Katie Hyde, my classmates and the students at The School for Creative Studies.
My first image is titled Explore. On this day, the students took a field trip to the Center for Documentary Studies, received a verse from the Walt Whitman poem, and then went out to create photographs of their lines. Conrad and myself were partnered with Shamar and were accompanied by Lauren and her match Derrick. We asked the two boys where they wanted to go, giving them a few options on and around campus. As we we set out to find some things to photograph the boys peered into windows, walked down small alleys and observed people on the streets. We went into a bookstore where the boys photographed titles and specific words they found interesting or relevant to their Whitman lines. It was great to see them reading and searching for the right picture, then taking several shots trying to get the picture to turn out exactly how they wanted it to. Store owners and passer-bys got involved asking about the project, often wondering what was so interesting about the things the boys selected to photograph. Hearing them explain and justify their choices was great to see.
One of my favorite parts of this day was when we discovered a building that appeared to have recently closed. In the image above, the boys are reading signatures and comments left by faithful patrons on the doors and walls of the bar. Shamar and Derrick created stories about what happened to the place as well as the patrons who left their marks. This reminded me of how we all leave our stories behind in one way or another. By making exploration one of the first steps in creating images it forces us to pay attention to stories and scenes we may have otherwise overlooked. Shamar’s verse in the poem focused on finding answers, “You are asking me questions, and I hear you. I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.” I took this picture of him and said by creating stories about the bar and the people he and Derek were, in fact, finding their own answers, just like the line instructs.
My second image focuses on bravery because it is much harder than you might think to put a camera directly in someone’s face. In many ways, Literacy Through Photography projects challenge comfort zones and takes some bravery to complete. I thought this was a great example of both the subject and the photographer stepping out of their comfort zones for the sake of an image. Conrad agreed to pose as a blade of grass, for it is no less than the “journey work of the stars.” Shamar then wanted to only capture the grass in his photo. In order to do this he had to stand extremely close and eventually ended up resting the camera on Conrad’s head to get the image in focus.
On this day, we were at the Eno River with the students and bravery was a continual theme. We ran from spiders, fell in mud, climbed up hills, on rocks, and got questionably close to the water. The images that resulted were impressive and often very detailed, as Katie had instructed us to focus on things that were small for this project. I found this aspect of LTP to be very beneficial in boosting the students confidence in picture taking. Shamar would take several shots trying to get his pictures in focus. Some things worked exactly as he wanted, while others did not work so well. He used his body to express verses and seemed to really enjoy the day, especially after he got over the fear or hesitancy of getting dirty or too close or the first image not being perfect.
Perspective – we talked about perspective first thing in this class when reading the LTP teachers guide. Perspective has several technicalities to it. Is the image clear or blurry? How is it framed? Are we looking up or down at the subject? All of this is important, of course. It is crucial to think about these qualities when viewing and taking photographs but think perspective has a very personal meaning as well. It asks the photographer how they see the world. It also asks what they want others to see.
In this photograph Shamar is taking a picture of the church across the street. He is again photographing a verse in the poem that talks about finding out answers for yourself. Church is one place people go for answers. From where we were standing on the path any image would have had electrical lines and other object obscuring the photo. It would also have put the viewer at a lower position than the church. Shamar chose to stand on the East Campus wall to get a clear and direct view of the church. This reflected what he took his line to mean on the first day of camp he randomly chose this verse and he drew a picture of sword in the stone to represent it. He felt the verse meant you had to be bold and self-reliant. These thoughts are reflected in his choice of perspective in this picture as well. LTP allows kids to own their perspective and show it to others. I found that to be a powerful action.
What does dancing have to do with photography? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know it has a lot to do with fun. As we walked around campus looking for the last images we wanted to take I put on some old school hip-hop and the boys loved it. They danced all the way back from East Campus to the Center for Documentary Studies. I chose to include this picture in my reflection because I think it shows how fun learning can be when we make it relatable and expressive. Learning , discovering and even working should be able to be fun. It should be something kids can connect with and look forward to. From what I have seen in LTP it has the ability to facilitate learning in a very fun and free way. The students in this class memorized portions of the poems and were able to understand the meaning behind verses because they made connections between the poet and themselves. In creating images of the lines the students took something over 100 hundred years older than them and breathed new life into it. That is amazing and free and fun and unique, just like dancing.
To bring it full circle I want to reiterate that LTP has reminded me what I love about working with kids because it allows them to be themselves. Kids are loud, they have a lot of questions, sometimes they are a little self-centered but at the same time they are extremely eager to please. These are qualities that should be used to tailor how we teach students rather than used as excuses to punish them, which, unfortunately, often happens in the American school system. Allowing students to explore, push themselves, do some self-discovery and have fun are excellent ways to help them learn material and grow as individuals. I chose to study social change and the experience of childhood for the past four years because I believe in the potential of all children to be great. I also believe that part of tapping into that greatness comes through developing confidence, responsibility and agency. I can definitely see how LTP could promote those characteristics and look forward to using it again beyond my experience in college.