Literacy Through Photography (LTP) is a teaching philosophy and methodology that encourages children to explore their world as they photograph scenes from their own lives and to use their images as catalysts for verbal and written expression. Framed around universal themes such as self-portrait, community, family, and dreams, LTP provides children and teachers with the expressive and investigative tools of photography and writing for use in the classroom.
In connecting picture making with writing and critical thinking, LTP promotes an expansive use of photography across different curricula and disciplines, building on the information that students naturally possess. LTP also 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 give students a way to understand each other’s diverse experiences.
From 1990 to 2011 LTP was an active project at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). LTP began when CDS invited photographer Wendy Ewald to Durham, North Carolina, to offer a two-week workshop for local schoolchildren. With encouragement from Durham school administrators and support from CDS, Ewald started the LTP program within the Durham Public Schools. During the past 20 years in Durham numerous elementary- and middle-school teachers and more than one thousand children of varying ages and backgrounds have taken part in LTP.
For 20 years, CDS has offered LTP workshops in Durham, attended by artists, photographers, and educators from across the United States and other countries. These hands-on workshops train participants in LTP’s methods for combining photography and creative writing, while encouraging participants to design individual plans for their own LTP-based projects. LTP staff members have also taught workshops in numerous other settings in the United States and abroad, expanding opportunities for participation.
Well over 100 students from Duke University and other local universities have enrolled in an undergraduate service-learning course, during which students collaborate with local public school teachers and classrooms in devising and carrying out LTP projects. Students’ in-depth study of LTP also involves reading and discussing materials on teaching, photography, and contemporary social issues relevant to public education. Since 2008 Duke students have also had the opportunity to participate in the LTP Arusha DukeEngage program. In this eight-week program, students help train Tanzanian teachers in LTP’s participatory learning philosophy and methodology. In Tanzania hundreds of teachers have been trained and several thousand schoolchildren have participated in LTP.
Although LTP is no longer an active project at CDS, students, educators, and community members may study the LTP methodology in the ongoing CDS workshops and the undergraduate course on LTP. Those interested in LTP can also refer to two LTP guidebooks—I Wanna Take Me a Picture (Ewald & Lightfoot) and Literacy and Justice Through Photography: A Classroom Guide (Ewald, Hyde & Lord)— and to the ongoing LTP blog, which highlights past and new LTP projects.
With support from Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, LTP has archived work made by more than one thousand Durham students. This archive, with more than seven hundred contact sheets and written pieces, is a resource for researchers and the general public. Who Am I: A Decade of Literacy Through Photography in Durham, 1990-2000, the first exhibition produced from this collection, was created by Durham teachers collaborating with Ewald and visiting curator Adam Weinberg, now director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The National Endowment for the Arts, the Surdna Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, among other institutions and foundations, have supported LTP and funded residencies with such artists as Alfredo Jaar, Deborah Willis, Luis Rodriguez, and John Edgar Wideman. These residencies have allowed Durham teachers and their students to collaborate with nationally known visual artists and writers in finding new ways to connect writing and photography.