Photographs for me have always represented so much more than just a record of an event. You see, for one reason or another, I don’t have that great of a memory. So, instead, photographs serve as my memory – not only as a documentation of what I was doing when the photograph was taken, but also a record of how I felt during that moment. When I look back at old photographs, even if they are taken of only specific details, I am able to remember where I took the photograph, when, why, and how I felt.
Whether I am behind or in front of the camera, photographs show me a still moment from my life, one that is hard for my memory to retain alone without visual representation. I exclusively think in photographs and images. So, when I learn, my retention is always best when I am able to use photographs (and this is one of the reasons I am such a big proponent for Literacy Through Photography).
Because of how I learn and remember, the way I start to think critically about a lot of situations is often through photographs. Through the details I have to focus on when shooting, the interactions I have to take note of, the little nuances (cultural and other) in every situation. Below is a photograph that I took while our DukeEngage 2016 LTP team was working at a teachers’ workshop in Magugu, Tanzania. After a long morning drive from Arusha, our team drove straight to the teachers’ workshop, walking into a room of 30 teachers anxiously waiting. Groggy and unaware that we were driving strait to the workshop, each of us piled out of the car, stretched, and prepared for the next unknown stretch of time. After a quick introduction, we all got straight to work.
In taking this picture, I had a set frame and composition I wanted; I had observed the interactions between teachers and the Duke students, and I knew what I wanted to capture. I wanted to show how in LTP, there is a focus on cooperative group work, attention to details, and participation. During our reading photographs exercise, an activity that is a pillar of LTP learning, I saw three of the main LTP principles playing out in the group work, so I snapped the shot above.
But what I found particularly interesting was the shot that I took below, a picture with the exact same framing, just taken two minutes later. And more than taking away some lesson about how any minute, something can change and look completely different even from the same point of view, I started to think about how after everything is done and said with Duke Engage’s time here in Tanzania, working with multiple schools and trying to further LTP’s methodology and its presence, what is going to be left? Will the photographs we leave behind be of any use? Will the teachers be able to apply what they have seen and learned in our workshops to their students?
Our impact in our time here has been a huge question for our group this summer. What is our role here, what is our impact, and what will we leave behind? Stemming from these questions, we have been focusing a lot on determining how we can increase out lessons’ transferability so teachers can use their knowledge from the workshops to apply the methodology in their classrooms. We have come up with some beginning ideas such as using cameras and printers less in workshops and asking teachers directly how they can apply these LTP lessons in the class.
But even with our more direct focus on transferability, I still wonder: what is the next frame in my story of being here? I see my time here, I see the work I am doing and the effective direct impact of an LTP lesson. But what comes next, after I leave? Are we focusing enough on how the teachers can use the limited resources they have to apply the LTP methodology in their classes? These are questions I don’t yet know how to answer or how to predict. But what we can focus on is making sure the teachers understand how, for LTP, you don’t need a camera or a printer; you don’t need paper or pencils or chalk. It’s all about getting kids to think creatively and moving away from the idea that there is only a right or wrong answer all the time. It is about finding a way for all the students to learn, and to learn well. A shift to this kind of student-centered, participatory education is what I hope to leave behind.