"You like the one where she blinks?"
A tumble of excited voices:
"Delete that one, delete that one."
"Keep this one?"
"Yeah, you can keep that one."
"Okay, so we're losing that one, right?"
"No, no, no, no!"
"Keep that one! All right, so we've got to choose between these three. These are pretty similar."
The final Everyday Africa-Everyday D.C. workshop finished with a ten-minute speed-editing activity with about 40 photos Everyday Africa co-founder and Pulitzer Center grantee Austin Merrill had taken of his daughter's first day of kindergarten. The students' task: To edit the series down to ten.
In the editing process the kids used the skills they'd acquired through studying others' photography and making their own over the three months of the fall-semester workshop, cutting, for example, the photos where the subjects blinked or could have been framed better. One student spotted a distracting pair of "hairy legs" in the background of one picture, and it was immediately deleted in favor of a similar shot, better framed.
The workshop took place in mid-December at The Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School. Merrill, who led the first session in October, and Everyday Africa photographer and Pulitzer Center grantee Allison Shelley, who led the second session in November, both joined the fifth and sixth-graders for two hours of photo viewing and discussion.
Having noticed that the students were gravitating in their own work toward taking pictures of each other and other people they knew, Austin opened the workshop with a lesson in taking portraits, using a series made in Ethiopia by Malin Fezehai.
Students noticed the way Malin posed her subjects and played with angles, backgrounds, emotions, light and shadow – "I see in most other pictures she likes to have the shadow there – " and backgrounds – "use what's around the photo to frame it."
Since the students themselves have shot hundreds of photos since October, their next challenge will be to select just one apiece for an exhibition at the Pulitzer Center in January. But Allison and Austin also wanted to show the power in a series of related photos, so Allison shared a few examples of photo essays. The classes reacted strongly to the work, wanting to know more about the stories and the subjects' lives, and animated chatter broke out frequently.
The students discussed the importance of context – that one image might not necessarily tell a whole story. While examining a photo essay called "Where Children Sleep," they talked about how it was just as important to empathize with a child in Appalachia as with one in Africa.
"That's the kind of empathy the photographer wants you to have here," teacher Latisha Coleman told the class. "Because where you sleep matters." She also encouraged them to think about the motivations of the photographer of a different series they examined: "This author had a clear purpose. It's the same things you study when you're reading or writing."
Finally, Austin unveiled the brand-new @everydaydc Instagram account, pre-populated with several of the students' photos.
As Austin and Allison wrapped up, the students were eager to get back out "in the field." One asked, "Can we have the cameras before recess?"
"In a short amount of time," Ms. Coleman told Austin and Allison after class, "the passion now is photography."
If you're interested in hosting a series of "Everyday" workshops at your school, get in touch: [email protected]. And be sure to stay tuned for news of the students' photo exhibition, to be held at the Pulitzer Center in late January!
"You like the one where she blinks?"