wrtf14 photo essay assignment

Assignment Overview

View from the Window at Le Gras by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
Color digital print reproduction of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s
View from the Window at Le Gras (c1826)
June 2002

“The DAGUERREOTYPE is not merely an instrument which serves to draw Nature; on the contrary it is a chemical and physical process which gives her the power to reproduce herself.”
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (c1839)

L’Atelier de l’artiste (1837)
Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre

“Our chief object at present is to investigate the connexion of photography with art—to decide how far the sun may be considered an artist, and to what brand of imitation his powers are best adapted.”
Lady Elizabeth Eastlake (1857)

Alfred Stieglitz, The Hand of Man
The Hand of Man (1902)
Alfred Stieglitz

“Now in all of this it should be well understood, that the machine is a passive and innocent party, The control of its mechanism and materials, the fineness and sensitivity of its accomplishment are those of man.”
Paul Strand (1922)

Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road near Trảng Bàng, Vietnam,
Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road near Trảng Bàng, Vietnam
Nick Ut (1968)

“The intelligibility of a photograph is no simple thing; photographs are texts inscribed in terms of what we may call ‘photographic discourse,’ but this discourse, like any other, engages discourses beyond itself, the ‘photographic text,’ like any other is the site of a complex ‘intertextuality,’ an overlapping series of previous texts ‘taken for granted’ at a particular cultural and historical juncture.”
Victor Burgin (1977)

“What I am saying is: memories evoked by a photo do not simply spring out of the image itself, but are generated in an intertext of discourses that shift between past and present, spectatator and image, and between all these and cultural contexts, historical moments.”
Annette Kuhn (1991)

Rhien II by Andreas Gursky
Rhien II (1999)
Andreas Gursky

Assignment Details

Create a photo essay consisting of 12 – 15 photographs on a particular theme or subject. The photographs can be of any style (landscape, portrait, urban decay, and so on) as long as there is a unifying theme or subject.

The media you use to record the photos should relate in some way to the subject matter. Do not simply use a digital camera because you have one or a cell phone because it is convenient. Rather, think about how the media used to record the image complements the subject itself. Amazing, award-winning photographs can be made using disposable cameras, for example.

Along with the photos I would like you to compose the following:

  • a 300 – 350-word introduction to the images in the vein of those composed by Joseph Rodriguez for Where Children Sleep and Yves Marchand and Romain Mefre in The Ruins of Detroit.
  • a 500 word analysis of the photos where you discuss your reasons (rhetorical and aesthetic) for choosing the images and the medium/technology chosen to record the images (film, digital camera, cell phone camera, specific app, and so on)
  • choose 1 image and compose a 750 word in-depth discussion of it in terms of the theories on photography that we have read, the so-called “rules of composition” that are discussed via the links in Additional Materials section below, as well as what that particular image signifies and what about the image allows your particular message to be transmitted to the receiver.
  • clarification: Please be sure to cite the readings in your two analysis essays

Your images do not have to have titles or captions, though you are welcome to use either or both. If you do, be sure to address them in your analysis (especially in terms of Barthes discussions on anchorage). If your subject requires some research, be sure to incorporate (however briefly) what you find in the Introduction or analysis.

The final project will be compiled using Issuu.com and submitted via the course blog.

Additional Materials

Information on the Rules of Composition:

Sample Final Photo Essays

On my Way to Cape May: Phantom Portraits of my Hometown by Christen Otter

Delving in to Delsea: Distorted and Desperate by Diana Riker

Presence in Absence: A Visual Exploration of Camden, NJ by Samantha Brown

makeup and confidence by meghan o’donnell

The Great Commission by Amanda Chandler

TGIF by Jane Blaus

Past and Present by Chelsea Shapp
Distance: A Visual Exploration by Justin Totora


The photo essay you create will have some sort of meaning behind it beyond the images as individual photos. What overall point are the images as a group going to make? What are they going to reveal? The Chernobyl essay, for example, is making an argument about many things—the risks we take as humans, how humans tend to try to hide away the effects of our use of energy, the health impacts of the energy we use, and so on. The Detroit images are making real the decay of one of the great cities in America. The portraits of the patients under anesthesia force us to see the human condition in an alternative way, in a way that is kind of like a death-like state, cyborg-ish with tubes and masks covering us.

The main question I’m going to look for being addressed in your proposal is: What overall point is your photo essay going to make? Forcing yourself to address this question now—that is, before you’ve started making your images—is important because similar points can be made with multiple subjects. Knowing the point you want to make will help you choose subjects as you view them through the viewfinder or the LCD screen on your phone or the back of a digital camera.

Creating a photo essay is 100 times harder than writing a regular essay with alphabetic text, and more complex rhetorically than compose a mashup. Merely choosing a topic is one part of the difficulty. Knowing ahead of time what point (what story) you want to tell is even more difficult. So, when you are making your images, know that the subjects might be a house or a building or a graveyard or feet (and these are all worthy subjects; I’m just using them as examples as they are the first to pop in my head!), but the overall point of that collection of images must be larger than that. It should reveal something about something. That something can be personal (a la Kelly’s self-portraits as discussed in her essay) or it can be local (as in the New Orleans Six Flags photos or the ones about the Mosque in NYC) or something much much larger.

So, I’d like to post to the course blog a concise 450 – 500-word proposal in which you discuss in this order:

  1. What overall point your photo essay is going to make. In this section, do not discuss the subject of the images at all; just discuss the point you want to me. Make references to the readings and photo essays if you think it enhance your discussion.
  2. The subjects you are considering to help you make your point. Note that I used the word “subjects.” I’d like you to propose a few options, and discuss how they will help you make the overall point you want to make. Make references to the readings and photo essays if you think it enhance your discussion.
  3. The overall feel of the images that you’d like to produce. By “feel” I mean how the images will look, but not the actual subjects. Rather, do you see them as being black and white? Color? Highly saturated, like the New Orleans Six Flags images? Desaturated? Grainy? Old-timey looking, and so on. Also discuss how this feel matches or compliments the point you are trying to make and the subjects you have chosen. Make references to the readings and photo essays if you think it enhance your discussion.
  4. The technology you will use to record the images. Discuss which camera you’ll be using and any apps that will be used. Discuss how the technology used reflects the subject, as described in the assignment.

The more important and significant the meaning or point you are trying to make the more affective and effective your photo essay will be. If you are having trouble thinking of subjects but know the point, discuss the trouble you are having. Don’t just default to something because of a due date. It is better to work to something you’ll be proud of and there is plenty of time for the assignment.

Due date: the sooner the better, but definitely no later than Sunday, November 23. I’d like to have comments on your proposals before Thanksgiving, so you have the holiday weekend to start composing your images, but if you need more time, I understand.

Please don’t email BW with subject ideas; the key at this point is to think about the point you want to make. The subject should come as an extension of that. I’ll provide you with suggestions in my comments.

Creating the Rough and Final Drafts

Rough Draft, due by class time, December 11
Upload to your folder in the course Dropbox folder a PDF draft of your photo essay. Your draft must include, in this order:

  • a title page
  • a complete introduction to the images in the vein of those composed by Joseph Rodriguez for Where Children Sleep and Yves Marchand and Romain Mefre in The Ruins of Detroit
  • at least half of the 12 – 15 required the photographs
  • drafts of each of the two required essays

Building the rough draft
To build your rough draft, please use Microsoft Word, Pages, or GoogleDocs with the following specifications:

  • put the document in landscape mode so the page is vertical
  • the first page of the document should be a title page; it can include an image or not
  • the second page should be blank
  • the third page should be your Introduction; use the heading Introduction above the text; if you’d like, you might try putting the content in 2 columns with justified text.
  • the fourth page should be blank
  • starting on page five, add your images, centered, one per page; if you’d like to include a title, place it under the image, centered
  • after the last image, leave a blank page
  • last, add drafts of your analysis essays, making an meaningful title for each reflection; you might consider using columns here, as well, and add a Works Cited list as necessary

Save a draft as a Word document, then save one as a PDF. Upload the PDF to your folder in the course Dropbox folder.

Final Draft, due Monday, December 15, by 11:00pm
Format the final draft exactly as your rough draft.

Then, create an account at issuu.com. Upload the PDF version of your final draft. Add the title of your project, a meaningful description, and a few keywords. Select Article or Essay to the Type. For Category, select Creative, for the Language English, and Target Area, The World. Under Publishing Options, select Publish. Under Sharing, select Yes for Comments; the other 2 are up to you. Click Upload.

After the upload, you will be brought to your Library. Check to see that all is okay by opening the photo essay.

Compose a blog post that contains your Introduction and embed the photo essay from Issuu. Add associated tags and select the Photo Essay Final category.

To embed, view your photo essay on Issuu and then click Share. Click Embed.  When the popup window appears, style the size to your taste under Styling Options. Look down a bit and you will see a section for Link. Copy that link. Go to your blog post and paste it in where you want the photo essay to appear. It will appear as it should once you publish your post.

Once published, tweet a link to your blog post with your photo essay title and #wrtf14 hashtag.

Sit back and congratulate yourself for being done for the semester. :-)

Assessing the Work

Projects will be assessed by the overall statement your series of photos is making about a certain topic or theme, by the strength of the connection between the medium chosen to record the images and the images themselves, and by how well you apply the photography and semiotic theories we have read in class to the photos you have made and selected. I will also be considering how well you have applied the Rules of Composition to the 1 photograph you choose analyze in more depth. In terms of the course strands, I will be looking specifically at Multimodality, Rhetoric, Technology (for the media used to record the images), and Critical Thinking, Writing, and Reading.

Due Dates

Sunday, 11/23 by 11:00pm: proposal
Post to Blogging is the New Black a 450-500-word proposal (see above for proposal specifics).

12/2: In-class photo assessment
Upload to the course Dropbox account (invite to be sent) 8 – 10 photographs that will be work-shopped in class that you think represent the body of work you would like to include in your essay. Rank them in order of preference and for each write down 3 – 5 strengths in terms of its potential to be analyzed. No other writing is required for this stage.

In-class photo assessment will occur over two days, 12/2 and 12/4. All photos are due by 12/2.

12/11: Photo Essay rough draft due by classtime
Upload to the course Dropbox folder a PDF draft of your photo essay. See above for specifics.

12/15: Final Photo Essay Due by 11:00pm
Final photo essay assignment due on the course blog and in Issuu. See above for specifics.

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