In early 2012 I decided I wanted to teach photography to kids and began searching online for resources to help me get started. At that point, I was merely looking for some tips on how to present the fundamentals of photography in a quick and accessible manner. However, that all changed when I came upon a booked called, I Wanna Take Me a Picture, written by well-respected photography educator Dr. Wendy Ewald.
It was a fascinating read and made me aware of Ewald’s groundbreaking photography work with children around the world. Her unique instructional approach introduced photography as a catalyst for self-expression, critical thinking, student-centered learning, and as a tool for addressing issues of identity, community and culture.
Her work, which has spanned over 40 years, led to the development of a educational program called, Literacy Through Photography (LTP).
Six months later I was sitting at a Literacy Through Photography workshop in the prestigious Center for Documentary Studies, at Duke University in North Carolina, led by sociologist and LTP director, Katie Hyde. I returned to Canada even more excited to pilot a LTP program of my own and got my feet wet by facilitating a couple of workshops at my boys’ alternative school in downtown Toronto, and at a junior public school in Burlington, ON. I also learned a tremendous amount as a guest mentor for a group of teen girls participating in a mentorship program run by female police officers. (Last year their photographs were featured in an exhibit at Toronto City Hall.)
Most kids have access to a camera or mobile device that can take pictures but how do they process what they see? How do they portray themselves? How do they communicate in the language of images in a digitally-saturated society that produces over 60 billion images each month on Facebook alone?
The LTP program address this mainly by putting students at the centre of their leaning and by challenging them to question what they see. They are encouraged to explore what it means to ‘read images in ways that address issues of identity, culture, diversity, and intent. They are introduced to the core concepts of photography and writing prompting them to assert their own point of view in a society increasingly presented in purely visual formats. Students of differing learning styles, skill levels, and motivation are equally engaged building community in the classroom.
The award-winning photojournalist Jason Eskenazi, who spearheaded a Kids With Cameras program with children living in Jerusalem, believes photography is innate and that visual literacy is something we are born with. And Edinburgh-based photography educator Matthew Sowerby, who encourages the integration of photography into learning, teaching and assessment in schools, believes “we are experiencing a seismic shift it what it means to be literate” and that “visual literacy workshops can engage and motivate students by involving them as active participants in their own learning.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
In the short time I’ve been piloting my LTP workshops, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with wonderful kids from different backgrounds, skill levels, and personalities. What strikes me the most is how each student is eager to express themselves through the art of photography. Equally compelling is the gift of vision each of them possess. Giving them the tools to more effectively decipher the images around them, and to create images that acknowledge their own experiences is often the most empowering aspect LTP. Students can perceive of themselves as artists with a voice just as worthy as anyone else.
Almost, a year and a half later, I’ve had the opportunity to offer my workshops in over 5 schools in the GTA, with interest in the program from parents, schools, and after school centres growing steadily.
If you’re a parent, teacher, principal or youth outreach leader interested in bringing an LTP workshop to your school or centre, please get in touch with me here.
I’d love to hear from you.