Project One: Personal Photo Essay
We have been talking these first few classes about thinking and writing as processes of inquiry. Specifically, we have begun discussing how exploring, explaining, evaluating, and reflecting represent different approaches to, and often yield very different perspectives on, any topic. In this first project, you will practice this work further by exploring, explaining, evaluating, and reflecting on a series of photographs/images as a means of inquiring into some event or aspect of your past that has had an impact on who you are and how you look at the world.
Getting Started: While all personal essays are, in a sense, memoirs (vivid accounts of writers’ “memories,” told in the first person), a good photo essay also serves as a kind of history (a record of actual events that attempts to explain their importance in a wider context.) For example, beginning with a picture of your grandmother, you might reflect on your family’s history in your hometown, or on vacations you took together, or even on the meals that were cooked for special occasions. In thinking about these things, you might discover a lot about your grandmother’s place in your family, your family’s relationships with each other, or even how you have come to think about important things in your life. But the photograph of your grandmother literally documents a moment in time as well, an actual day, a place, particular articles of clothing, an event. And all the memories you have of her, and everything you can recall of your family that this image triggers, are also historical—each reflects a particular person (you), in a particular family, in a particular town, in a particular region, in a particular culture, in a particular country in the world, at a particular moment of history, etc.
Thus, whatever images you end up selecting or event you choose to explore, remember that your ultimate goal is to try to communicate both what is personal and unique about your experiences and what makes them representative and meaningful in a wider sense, to a wider audience.
Rhetorical Considerations: The audience for your work is anyone who is unfamiliar with your background, experiences, upbringing, and/or culture. Therefore, you will need to develop your essay in a manner that will allow the reader to truly understand your experiences and attachments. There is not a single, “correct” way to organize your document. You might choose to structure it in a narrative style, moving through time and chronologically discussing the memories your images evoke. Or you might choose a thematic approach that identifies central issues pertinent to the images you’ve chosen. The key is to ensure that each element of your essay “flows” by relating to—and supporting—your focus. Composing a piece that is “fluid” will also require that you make decisions about how to incorporate the images in a seamless manner so that they enhance your work as opposed to distracting the reader.
Putting It Together: You must incorporate at least three images into your essay, at least one of which must be a photograph or picture of an actual person, place, or event from your past. I know this will be different for most of you—have fun with it! Your essay should have an original title that supports the main theme/points you are trying to make. Your essay should be 3-4 pages (approximately 750-1000 words).
Student Learning Outcomes: After successfully completing this project, you should: 1) have a better understanding of how to use writing to explore, explain, evaluate, and reflect on your experiences; 2) see that serious writing can take multiple forms (i.e., much writing you will do from now on will move beyond the simple five paragraph essay); 3) consider your audience and purpose more carefully when making decisions as a writer; and 4) be able to interpret and compose in a variety of media and print/non-print genres.