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Out in the ordinary: a structured photography project.

Sooner or later, we all stop looking at the details of our daily round, and photography students are no exception. They often generate good photographs from unusual experiences--celebrations, special outings, holidays in exotic places--but they have much more difficulty finding photographs in the inconsequential material of everyday life; to tune in what they usually tune out. A structured look at their local environment can stimulate high school photographers to see remarkable pictures in unremarkable circumstances.

My students were given a very specific brief, with some leeway to allow them to pursue the aspects of photography which they preferred. The subject was the London Underground (transport system), as it is accessible to all and very much a part of the ordinary scene for students living in London. (it could have been any public place--a main street, a shopping center, a park.) The project was to produce a set of three photographs, each print illustrating one of the following: 1. Human Interest 2. Movement 3. Deep Space 4. Pattern and Texture 5. Dramatic Light and Shade

The results were rewarding. Students began to appreciate design elements in the spaces they had previously walked through unseeing. They saw details they had never noticed before. Tunnels and tiles, entries and escalators, people and passages suddenly became visually interesting. The photo outing in the ordinary world produced an extraordinary adventure. One pair of students approached an Underground official about photo possibilities, and was shown around the underside of the escalator and the maintenance tunnels.

At a technical level, the Underground project sharpened students' skills in timing and adaptability. A moment's hesitation often meant that the photograph was gone. In addition, because much of the Underground system is dimly lit, the photographers gained valuable experience in identifying light sources and dealing with low light levels. They could not use a flash because of an Underground regulation. (It is worth checking on regulations before sending students out.)

The photography classes found this project very exciting, and were eager to share their ideas and experiences. The students often went out together to work on it, which contributed to the cohesiveness of the group. They improved their visual awareness both through the process of producing their own photographs, and through seeing that there are infinitely different and interesting images out in the ordinary.
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Author:McKeen, Linda
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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