Reflective photographic practice: developing socially engaged student photographers

Document
Description

This study examines the possibility of using social and historical contexts, image analysis, and personal themes to engage adolescent photography students in the craft of photography. This new curriculum

This study examines the possibility of using social and historical contexts, image analysis, and personal themes to engage adolescent photography students in the craft of photography. This new curriculum was designed around large themes that correspond to the developmental stage of adolescence. Issues such as self-identity, teenage stereotypes, school, family, and community were explored through examining historical documents and photographs, comparing popular culture perspectives, and learning basic semiotics. The students then worked within these ideas by creating their own photographs and reflecting upon their art making choices. The new approach was implemented in an analog film class in which basic 35mm camera and film techniques are taught. It is argued that meaning making motivates the adolescent photographer rather than the achievement of strong technical skills. This qualitative study was conducted using an action research approach, in which the author was both the classroom teacher and the researcher. The study incorporates data collected from student-created photographs, student written responses, interviews of students, interviews of photography teachers, and the researcher's field notes. Major themes were discovered over time by applying a grounded theory approach to understanding the data. The curriculum brought a new level of student engagement, both in participation in the course and in the complexity of their image making. By incorporating the chosen topics, students' images were rich with personal meaning. Students retained concepts of historical and social uses for photography and demonstrated a base understanding of semiotic theory. Furthermore, the data points to a stronger sense of community and teacher-student relationships within the classroom. The researcher argues that this deeper rapport is due to the concentration on personal themes within the practice of photography. Setbacks within the study included censorship by the school of mature subjects, a limited amount of equipment, and a limited amount of time with the students. This study demonstrates the need for art curriculum to provide connections between visual art, interdisciplinary associations, students' level of development, and students' personal interests. The research provides a possible approach to redesigning curriculum for photography courses for the twenty-first century student.