Literacy Through Photography (LTP)
, an innovative arts and education program developed twenty years ago by artist Wendy Ewald at the Center for Documentary Studies in conjunction with the Durham Public Schools, challenges children to explore the world by photographing scenes from their lives and using their own images as catalysts for verbal and written expression. Framed around the themes of self-portrait, community, family, and dreams, LTP builds on the knowledge that young people naturally possess and connects them with broader perspectives and ways of communicating.
The LTP project in Arusha, Tanzania, began in 2004 when Sister Cities of Durham brought two Tanzanian teachers to the Center for Documentary Studies to attend an LTP workshop. Building on these connections, LTP staff traveled to Arusha in 2008 and 2009 to offer workshops to hundreds of primary-school teachers, from all over the district, and to co-teach lessons that involved more than 2,450 students.
These experiences culminated with a public exhibition of children’s work, some of which is included in this exhibition. Also on display are photographs that document the collaborative LTP process.
Developed by the artist and educator Wendy Ewald at the Center for Documentary Studies, Literacy Through Photography (LTP) has collaborated with the Durham public school system for twenty years, and for the last decade has been a teacher-training program for educators from across the United States and abroad. At its core, Literacy Through Photography provides children and teachers with the expressive and investigative tools of photography and writing for use in the classroom, and further encourages children to explore their world as they photograph scenes from their own lives, and then to use their images as catalysts for verbal and written expression.
In connecting picture making with writing and critical thinking, LTP provides a valuable opportunity for students to bring their home and community lives into the classroom. Photographs can give teachers a glimpse into their students’ lives, and in increasingly diverse classrooms, give students a way to understand each other’s experiences.
Artists, activists, and teachers around the world have put cameras into the hands of children, asking and allowing them to share their visions and stories. The resulting images are illuminating, and the experience is memorable, if often fleeting.
Since 2008, a small staff from CDS and a rotating group of Duke University student fellows sponsored by DukeEngage spend each summer in Tanzania, first training local teachers in LTP's methods and then assisting in the development and teaching of classroom-based LTP projects.
The LTP program in Tanzania aspires to make an impression on children while working more broadly to influence ways of learning and styles of pedagogy within Tanzanian schools. The work begins not with children, but with the teachers who once studied in traditional classrooms based on rote memorization and who are now charged by the Tanzanian government with facilitating a shift toward participatory methods of instruction.
Whether in North Carolina or in Tanzania, any LTP activity—“reading” a photograph, brainstorming about how to represent conceptual ideas visually, framing and shooting photographs, or writing creative stories or narrative descriptions about pictures—emphasizes critical thinking and visual, cultural, and written literacy. Drawing on many years of experience, the LTP staff and students learn alongside Tanzanian teachers and students. Together, they continue to recognize the meaning, potential, and challenges of LTP in Tanzania in light of restricted resources, class sizes with as many as a hundred children, strict national curricula, and educational reform efforts.
In addition to managing logistical hurdles, LTP staff members are discovering how to navigate differing priorities and even assumptions about photography. Does an image show the “real thing”? Are photographs open to interpretation? And how should photography be folded into a lesson plan? A Durham teacher, for instance, might emphasize self-expression, assigning students to create self-portraits in a language arts class. But a Tanzanian teacher might ask students to illustrate specific English or Swahili verbs, accomplishing both a process-oriented goal—a grammar lesson—and a product-oriented goal—the creation of prints to be used as visual classroom aides, which are noticeably missing in most Tanzanian schools.
Literacy Through Photography has trained more than 150 teachers from 45 primary and secondary schools and several teachers' colleges in Tanzania, and well over 2,000 Tanzanian children have participated in school-based LTP projects. To foster the program's sustainability, the LTP Teacher Resource Center has been established to house a growing collection of cameras, printers, and other photography supplies. The LTP program abroad continues year-round under the leadership of a Tanzanian teacher and artist and with the counsel of a local advisory committee of experienced LTP teachers. These teachers recognize that not all students learn by one method, so photography and the LTP program can open up opportunities for shy or less eloquent students to participate in learning. One teacher says he feels that East Africans often turn a blind eye to students, but LTP opens up a new educational opportunity. As his fellow teacher put it, the best thing about LTP is how it allows teachers to see how their student see—and how they imagine.
Director, Literacy Through Photography