Documentary Photo Essay


Erin Anderson
Composing Digital Media
Fall 2012
Course Website

This project invites you to compose an original photo essay—consisting of between 7 and 12 photographs—which explores a theme or event of your choice. The photographs may be of any style or subject (landscape, portrait, etc), as long as (1) they are shot and edited by you for the purposes of this assignment and (2) they cohere into a unified documentary narrative demonstrating attention to the principles of visual composition and sequencing we have discussed in class.

Before taking your photographs, you will compose a 250-word proposal for your project, laying out: the subject you will address, the story you aim to tell about that subject, thesignificance of this story, and the types of shots you hope to capture.

In addition to your photographs, your project should include a written component (250 to 350 words), which demonstrates your attention to word-image relationships. Your writing may take the form of detailed captions (as in “Remembering Hardware”), a discrete introduction (as in “The Ruins of Detroit”), or a combination of the two. You may even—if it suits your rhetorical and aesthetic aims—choose incorporate words into the images themselves. Whatever strategy you employ, keep in mind that the text should be used to enhance your narrative, not to carry it. In other words, your photographs should stand alone as a meaningful visual account of a theme or event.

Finally, you will compose a 500-word reflection on your composition process, including (1) a discussion of your rhetorical and aesthetic aims in shooting, selecting, and sequencing your images and (2) an in-depth analysis of a single image (choose your favorite one!) as it demonstrates your attention to principles of photographic composition.

Leading up to this project, students viewed sample photo projects (“The Ruins of Detroit” | “Where the Children Sleep” | “Remembering Hardware”), read “Top 10 Photography Composition Rules” and “The Photo Essay: Give It Your Best Shot”, and wrote an “image analysis” blog post in response to the following prompt:

Choose an image — one that you find particularly challenging or compelling — from one of the three photo essays we are viewing for this class and write a detailed visual analysis. Drawing upon the readings for this week, your analysis should address (1) the key compositional elements of the image, (2) how you see the image fitting within the scheme of the larger photo essay of which it forms a part, and the (3) emotional or rhetorical effect the image evokes in you as a viewer.

Students also watched selected tutorials on image editing and manipulation in Adobe Photoshop CS4 and CS5 and participated in hands-on instruction in the software platform.
As preparation for producing the written component, we read “Show and Tell” from Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and discussed word-image relationships.

“Conquering Cardiac Hill”