Literacy Through Photography

Literacy Through Photography (LTP) is a teaching methodology that encourages children to explore their worlds as they photograph scenes from their own lives, using the images as catalysts for verbal and written expression around universal themes such as self-portrait, community, family and dreams. The work can give teachers a glimpse into students’ lives and give students a way to understand each other’s experiences.

One of the Center for Documentary Studies’ oldest initiatives, LTP was originally developed by artist/educator Wendy Ewald in partnership with CDS and the Durham Public Schools.

Staff at CDS share the LTP philosophy and methodology in various ways:

The program continues its decades-long work with students and teachers in Durham Public Schools, working across different curricula and disciplines by connecting picture making with writing and critical thinking. Recent collaborations include “Stories from Stagville,” a multimedia exploration of the lives of individuals enslaved on Durham’s former Stagville plantation; “Song of Myself,” a project inspired by Walt Whitman’s literary classic; and the “Un-Selfie Project,” which uses mask-making to explore self-portraiture in the time of selfies and fake news. An undergraduate LTP class at CDS integrates college students into this work, and includes review and discussion of teaching, photography, and contemporary social issues relevant to public education.

Through the LTP Arusha DukeEngage summer program in Arusha, Tanzania (2008-2018), Duke undergraduates assisted LTP staff in training Tanzanian teachers in LTP’s philosophy and methodology and worked with thousands of Tanzanian students on classroom photography and writing projects. LTP staff continue to support the LTP Tanzania program as it expands to new regions of the country.

Workshops throughout the United States and abroad train artists, educators, and others in LTP’s methods for combining photography and creative writing while encouraging participants to design individual plans for their own LTP-based projects.

With support from Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, LTP has archived photographic and written work made by Durham students. This archive is a resource for researchers and the general public.

LTP Guidebooks

Book cover of I Wanna Take Me a Picture, showing two children holding up cameras.

Wendy Ewald has worked with children around the world, using photography to enable them to express what they think and feel, even on difficult subjects like their dreams and racial stereotypes. Written for parents and teachers, the book is filled with anecdotes about Ewald’s work (and striking photographs of children’s work) that makes it an accessible and practical guide to getting children involved in photography. I Wanna Take Me a Picture uses basic assignments to teach everything from framing and point of view to how to set up a darkroom and develop film.

“Wendy Ewald has had a photographic career like no one else, teaching photography to children as a means of building literacy and self-esteem. Ewald’s project is wonderful because it lets kids speak for themselves; instead of being passive subjects for the lens, they eagerly harness it to the engines of their imaginations.” —Andy Grundberg, The New York Times

“Young people know joy, sorrow, and loss. By looking at their photographs and talking about making them, they begin to realize their lives have importance. This book is needed!” —Deborah Willis, author of Reflections in Black

“What’s striking about Ewald’s work is not just the effect she has on her students but the results they achieve together.” —Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine

“This is an innovative and highly recommended way to engage young people, teach them to ‘read’ photographs and introduce concepts of visual literacy.” —Center for Media Literacy

  • Authors: Wendy Ewald, Alexandra Lightfoot
  • Hardcover
  • 60 black-and-white photographs
  • Publisher: Beacon Press and Lyndhurst Books of the Center for Documentary Studies
  • Publication Year: 2001
  • Number of Pages: 176
  • ISBN: 0-8070-3140-2
  • Price: $24
Book cover of Literacy and Justice Through Photography, showing a boy making a muscle pose with his arm.

Wendy Ewald, Katherine Hyde and Lisa Lord share their perspectives as an artist, a sociologist and a teacher to build on students’ own ideas and experiences in integrating four Literacy Through Photography projects (American Alphabets, The Best Part of Me, Black Self/White Self, Memories from Past Centuries) into the curricula.

Using the backdrop of contemporary culture and the politics of urban schools, the book presents creative and engaging portraits, detailed project descriptions and lesson plans, and reflections and resources to promote critical thinking, self-expression and respect in the classroom while also addressing the standards across various disciplines and grade levels.

“We believe that a primary reason for doing these projects is that they provide students the chance to explore—with honesty, creativity, and critical thinking—important social, personal, and political topics that otherwise are easily avoided in the classroom…. Whether looking at the body, identity, race, culture, and/or language … Literacy Through Photography, as a philosophy and practice, is about students learning to read and write by doing, by creating their own works of art (rather than studying someone else’s) that combine words and images to express an idea and to tell a story.” —Wendy Ewald, Katherine Hyde and Lisa Lord, from their introduction

  • Authors: Wendy Ewald, Katherine Hyde, Lisa Lord
  • Paperback
  • 80 black-and-white photographs
  • Publisher: Teachers College Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies
  • Publication Year: 2011
  • Number of Pages: 208
  • Dimensions: 7" x 10"
  • ISBN: ISBN 978-9-8077-5281-4
  • Price: $32