1. Do you see beauty in this image?
2. Do you see truth in this image?
3. How might beauty help us find more truth?
4. How might truth help us find more beauty?
Photographs can tell stories that are impossible to say in words. We might think of a news photograph as merely a visual companion to an article -- showing the reader a politician mentioned in the story, or the scene of a traffic accident -- but they can do much more than this. Ed Kashi of the photography collective VII writes, "Photojournalism works on multiple levels, from covering breaking news and wars, to forming visual narratives and feature stories that help to illuminate and clarify the issues of our time with a depth and perspective that few other mediums can achieve. The universal nature of photography and the ability to capture time and freeze it in a way the mind remembers is a searing and unique quality of this medium."
Next we turn to images that might represent examples of the more complex definition of photojournalism that Mr. Kashi offers. When he says that photographs can "clarify the issues of our time," he is speaking about something much more expansive than conventional news photography might usually encompass. With its focus on the often-overlooked residents of one of Africa's largest cities, Micah Albert and David Conrad's story about trash-pickers seeks to use photography to help us see beyond stereotypes and other simplistic interpretations, to better understand the lives of a group of people living in extremely difficult circumstances.
Just outside Nairobi, Kenya's capital, a huge trash dump called the Dandora Municipal Dump Site sits very close to a million of the city's residents. The dump is undeniably a health hazard to the people who live nearby, causing respiratory illnesses and a host of other ailments. But it has also become a resource for many of the city's poorest, who make a living sorting through its mountains of waste for recyclables and even food. Read the introductory essay in the project page (Resource 1) and watch Micah Albert's Meet the Journalist video (Resource 2).
Look closely at the photograph above (click here for a larger version) and answer the questions included on the right. In responding to the questions, think about what makes you say so. Ideas to consider might include how a photographer uses light, color and composition artfully to draw a viewer to an image that may otherwise be unappealing because of its subject matter. Does the artistry of this image compel you to look at it longer than you might if it were more of a straight news photograph? You might also think about whether the attractiveness of a photograph might be deceiving or distracting in some way. Is an attractive image of a difficult subject inaccurate or misleading?
Repeat the exercise using the photograph above. Larger image here
Reach Micah Albert's blog post about the woman depicted in the first photograph. Does this post change your perception or understanding of the image?
<p>This lesson uses techniques developed with Project Zero to help students explore the interplay between beauty and truth in photojournalism.</p>