I’m not sure Pulitzer Center grantees Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill could have predicted the speed with which their Everyday Africa photo intiative would take off around the world, especially in classrooms. But the Tumblr feed, which exploded into a global movement on Instagram, has so far been incredibly popular with students of all ages in cities and the suburbs – everybody wants to share what their “everyday” looks like.
Professional photographers living and working on the continent fill the @EverydayAfrica Instagram feed, which is linked to the website, with photos of daily life, aiming to disrupt Western media stereotypes of Africa. The idea caught on among photographers around the world, who created sister feeds: Everyday Middle East, Everyday Eastern Europe, Everyday Asia, Everyday Latin America, Everyday U.S.A.…and so on.
We’ve been eager to use the Everyday concepts and images to hone visual literacy and storytelling skills and pique interest in global issues among young people in our base city of Washington, D.C. So in mid-October, photographers Meghan Dhaliwal and Allison Shelley led a two-day workshop with Adam Reinhard’s photography students at Ballou High School in southeast D.C.
Adam had learned of the Everyday Africa project in an arts orientation program run by the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, of which the Pulitzer Center is a member.
“I immediately fell in love with the #everydayAfrica photos,” wrote Adam in an e-mail to me after the workshop. “I knew that there was equal power in everyday DC photos, and I couldn't wait for an accessible venue through which my students could share the minutia of their incredibly rich lives.”
On the first day of the workshop, Meghan showed the students her own work from Haiti and Afghanistan, as well as the work of other Pulitzer Center grantee photographers Allison Shelley, Tomas van Houtryve and Carlos Javier Ortiz. We talked about the importance of finding the stories we might be missing around the world – the impact of cholera on post-quake Haiti or the resilience of daily life amid youth violence in Chicago.
“You can extract these issues in pretty much any place in the world,” Meghan told the Ballou students. “Things that are quieter and more sensitive are easily ignored.”
As she introduced the “Everyday” photo movement, Meghan used herself as an example to illustrate the value of local storytelling: “I went into Afghanistan and Haiti to look at a place that is not mine,” she explained. We gave the students an assignment: to document their own lives, in the place that is theirs – Everyday Southeast.
“My students picked up on the importance of ‘everyday’ imagery very quickly,” Adam wrote later, “because they are so accustomed to their neighborhood being presented in a negative light, and that is not the reality of their ‘everyday.’ They realize the power in making sure that people realize that their everyday lives are not a series of crises, but a string of very normal, and very special events.”
Allison, an Everyday Africa contributor herself, visited the class two days later. She showed photos from the newer Everyday USA and Everyday Black America feeds. We talked about the difference between journalism and advocacy. We talked about what made the photos powerful.
“I want [the photo] to be something that makes you pause,” Allison said. “We want to take a picture that connects with somebody else. You want your eye to start somewhere, and then you want it to go somewhere.”
Finally we projected some of the photos the students had taken over the past few days, their own representations of “Everyday Southeast,” and talked about them.
Lawrencia Odoms took a picture of a neighborhood liquor store with an empty parking lot, which most students recognized. “Usually when I pass this place it’s all crowded,” one student said.
We also examined a photo by Lawrencia of a young boy brushing his teeth; Allison told students she liked the light Lawrencia had captured and the use of the mirror in the image, and also the simple “everyday”-ness of it.
And of course, we couldn’t resist discussion of a selfie Akethia Royster had taken with her mother. Adam said he liked it because it was a telling representation of their close relationship. The photo also, according to the class, emanated “happiness,” “love” and “family.” Just maybe, we wondered, were selfies okay in moderation?
If you’re interested in running an “Everyday” workshop at your school, e-mail the Pulitzer Center education team at email@example.com. You can also check out the free curriculum available on the Everyday Africa website.