Three Hours. West Main and Broad Streets.
Still documentary photographs are worth a thousand negotiated meanings: They seek to explain how things are, while at the same time offer a photographer’s interpretation of the world. Documentary photography is not objective because photographers are human—subjectivity is inevitable. Photographers and viewers both may become politically engaged, educated, or emotionally involved by creating and/or experiencing these kinds of images.
On September 26, 2009, students enrolled in my Visual Storytelling workshop through the Continuing Education program at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) photographed the N.C. Pride Parade, a North Carolina–based LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) event held on West Main and Broad Streets, just beyond CDS’s doors. For some, the art of making documentary photographs was new; for others, it was not. But all of the students, regardless of their level of experience, applied the techniques we had reviewed in the two-day workshop when making their images of participants, bystanders, and (a few, but vocal) protesters. People in the parade were members of families, high school and college student groups, local business organizations, and church groups. And as expected, people exercised their First Amendment rights, and debates became heated at times. Law enforcement officials discreetly monitored the events. My students documented these multiple perspectives.
Making images at the parade was mentally chaotic and physically challenging—politicians marched the route, ornate floats passed by, advocates ran past carrying flags, motorcyclists revved their engines, college students chanted, protesters yelled through megaphones, bystanders cheered. I encouraged the students to set aside their emotions, to document the parade through their viewfinder instead of their hearts.
Jon Wagner, a professor of image-based research at the School of Education at the University of California–Davis, has written that photographs that are created and experienced as social inquiry make “an effort to generate new knowledge of culture and social life through the systematic collection and analysis of sensory evidence and other forms of real-world data.” N.C. Pride’s mission states that this event is “a place to talk about how LGBT communities can work for social justice and join together in a festive, celebratory space. Inclusiveness and acceptance are the real gifts that we give to one another when we participate. Through our participation, we share a part of ourselves.” My students and I were likewise proud to have participated by documenting the event. We are honored to share this part of ourselves, our documentary work; and we hope that these images serve to enhance visibility and awareness of LGBT community and culture.
Instructor, Visual Storytelling Workshop
Continuing Education, Fall 2009
Meg Daniels is a freelance photographer specializing in non-traditional stock photography, portraiture, and documentary photography. Her work has been included in such publications as Mothering, The Sun, ADA Times, The Rambler, and Christianity Today, as well as the anthology Susan B. and Me: An International Collection of Personal Writings and Photos by Women of All Ages. Daniels has a B.F.A. in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Adult and Community College Education from North Carolina State University. She is a Continuing Education instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.