Digital photography is an art form that provides instant gratification. You can see your progress faster than you would with painting, drawing, or ceramics. Because of the age we live in, people are multimedia-driven and our society works efficiently with cell phones, computers, and the internet. I find that digital photography is yet another way technology has changed our approach to a task, and I believe it integrates well into education. Technology can give relevance to the art of photography, while also lowering a barrier. Easy-to-use digital cameras allow students to see themselves as artists and to express themselves creatively. This is something I wanted to teach my second- to fifth-grade students at Moravia Park Elementary when I began my residency with teacher partner and good friend, Cicely Jones, at the school in January.
I worked with students who were a part of the school’s P.R.I.D.E. program, which supports students with social and emotional learning differences. I started by giving students an overview of cameras and portrait photography. I wanted to teach them how to effectively take pictures and understand a photo’s ability to communicate feelings and ideas. Children aren’t always aware of how they are surrounded by photography every day. When they are looking at magazines or billboards, those are photographs! Getting them to understand how this art form is relevant to their everyday lives was important to their development throughout this residency.
The project I assigned students was based on a book of famous portraits that I found in a local bookstore. It showed all kinds of unique examples of portraiture, including Oprah, President Obama, and Billie Holiday. These pieces not only showed portraits of the individuals, but it also mapped out a collage of drawings, symbols, and words explaining what was important to each subject.
I had students build something similar so that they could share their own perspectives. Collaging items from magazines with their own photographs helped them define their sense of identity as they pieced the parts together. Their collages focused upon various aspects of their worlds, including interests, hobbies, and what makes them feel safe.
Some students really connected with each other through this project. One student, Trevor*, took the initiative to help another student who was having trouble focusing by sitting down with him, helping him cut out images, and discussing the project. Together, they were able to complete the work on the project for that day.
With Cicely and our faculty team, we came up with an idea that would give the students some independence. We provided disposable cameras to each of the students so that they could create images on their own time. This allowed the students to share a more well-rounded view of who they were. Giving them that responsibility really made a difference. Students felt important because they were expected to do something at a higher level–it was a very special moment.
Ultimately, the whole experience was wonderful and I appreciated the fact that Cicely brought me in to be a part of their team. During the final residency meeting, I got emotional after hearing what Cicely had to say about the improvement she had seen in her students during the residency. There were less behavioral issues and attendance was up. Hearing that positive change validated what I do. Sometimes it’s easy for artists to feel like the things they do go unseen, but this experience had an enormous impact upon the students I met. They were coming to school and they were staying positive and being productive. As children grow up, there are moments in their lives that they will never forget. I think these memories will go far.
Learn more about Christina’s photography residency programs for schools at yamd.org.
*Student names have been changed to protect their privacy.
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