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March Issue

Vol 28|No 4|March 2018



Photography: the New Basic

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

There are cameras everywhere! Or phone cameras.

Should this have an influence on schools and school programs?

Of course!

We should call photography, "The New Basic," as images now permeate much of the communication that takes place in our society. Schools should make sure students are equipped both to interpret images and to produce images that are powerful and artistic. Once an elective in some schools, a course in photography should now be mandatory and visual literacy should be a constant companion.

If you own a phone . . .

In 2014, 66 percent of the households in the United States owned a digital camera, but the population has moved on to camera phones.

Sales of digital cameras have dropped dramatically as smart phones started to include high quality cameras. In 2016, CIPA members shipped 24.2 million digital cameras, down 80 percent from peak sales in 2010 – the year that Instagram was launched. 

According to some studies, 85% of the photos being taken in 2017 were shot with camera phones.    

The numbers are astonishing. When companies started adding cameras to phones, the spread of photography into the hands of all citizens became a dramatic and real possibility.

As often happens when changes take place to technologies outside of schools, programs do not quickly shift to address those changes.

In a 2014 article in From Now On, "The Selfie goes to school", I proposed, "ways that schools might capitalize on this craze to engage students in levels of self reflection they might not otherwise consider. The mere shooting of a selfie need not involve much reflection at all, but there is great potential for the thoughtful exploration of concepts like masks, masking, pretense, persona, projection, front, facade, guise, and exterior."

I argued then that schools could help students to move from mere snapshots to images that involved thought, skill and artistry.

This article builds on the suggestions offered in "The Selfie goes to school."

Skillful Photographs

There are several dozen photographic concepts and strategies that all students should grasp and practice by the time they leave eighth grade. Because there are many great Web sites devoted to these concepts and strategies, I will only give a few examples and then list some of these Web sites.

  • Location of the sun — As I travel here and there, I see hundreds of tourists taking photos of loved ones whose faces are drenched in shadow. Looking for the sun or other sources of light should be as fundamental as it used to be to take the lens cap off the camera. Good light can turn a modest photo into something magical. Too much light (overexposure) can ruin even an otherwise great photo.

  • Composition — What belongs in the photo and what is the best way to arrange the elements to create the best effect? All too often the untutored photographer points and shoots without devoting much thought to such issues.

  • Point of view — Sometimes we "stoop to conquer," shooting from an unsual perspective to create a dramatic and pleasing effect. What is the best angle for the shot?

If you do a Google search for "shooting great photos," you will find dozens of very helpful sites, many of which would prove useful to students:

Requiring photography in school projects

Many school assignments should now require the inclusion of pertinent images. While teenagers and elementary age students spend many hours taking photos for Instagram and SnapChat, they are rarely asked to shoot a dozen for a school project. They may sometimes paste a single image into a biography being written for a class, but effective use of images is not yet a priority in many schools.

Some of these assignments might require the collection of more than a dozen images from the past, while others might require new photographs produced by the students. In preparing a report on what might be done to address a local problem like traffic congestion, for example, the students might use photography to dramatize the issue. Some students photographed the recent school walkouts commemorating the Parkland students who died as an assignment for their journalism class.

Visual and Media Literacy

Because images now permeate communication, students must become savvy about their use and abuse or risk becoming unwitting and easy targets for propaganda, marketing and manipulation.

Previous articles in FNO have explored this challenge in great detail:

Visual Devices

In the previous century, students learned in English classes about "literary devices." They learned about dozens of devices such as  metaphors, similes and deus ex machina.

During this century, they should be learning similar devices related to photography, marketing, advertising and visual persuasion. This challenge was addressed in detail in "Questioning Video, Film, Advertising and Propaganda: Deconstructing Media Messages."

The New Mexico Media Literacy Project at http://www.nmmlp.org provides many free downloads to support critical analysis of media as well as a range of products to support curriculum development in this area. Free downloads include the following:

1. Basic concepts - First principles for the study and practice of media literacy.

2. Text & subtext - The difference between what you see and/or hear, and what it means to you.

3. The language of persuasion - How media messages work.

4. Deconstructing media messages - How to decode media messages.

5. Creating counter-ads - How to "talk back" to deceptive or harmful media messages.

6. Making media - Ideas and resources on making your own media.

7. Taking action - Why & how to take action in our media culture.

How to take action in our media culture

Our students must know how to protect themselves in the marketplace, writing persuasive complaint letters that include powerful images and turning to social media if their complaints fall on deaf corporate ears. In September of 2017, I had a very bad travel experience at the hands of Lufthansa and have mounted a social media campaign that has reached more than 50,000 people on Flickr. Images played a very important role in dramatizing my bad experience.

The Lufthansa Betrayal

It has been five and a half months since Lufthansa blocked me and the two kitties from flying home from Bucharest on September 29 despite having approved and confirmed two seats and two cat spots well in advance.

This forced us into a 4 day 1500km train journey costing an extra $1446 with me hauling five 50 pound bags, a guitar and two cats through three train stations that had no porters or luggage carts. It was a horrible experience, but Lufthansa has done nothing to make amends and keeps supporting their rogue employee who countermanded their reservation agents on the basis of a non-existent "one pet per person" policy.

54,203 people have now read of this horror on Flickr, and I hope to reach 250,000 by September 2018.

I did file a complaint with a German agency devoted to resolving such disputes (soep-online.de/) on December 20, but three months later, I have heard nothing back from them and I am feeling very frustrated by this silence and delay.

Lufthansa's leaders have shown an unconscionable level of detachment and silence, even though I was allowed to fly with both cats and two seats from Frankfurt to Moscow on December 31 of 2016 and both of these itineraries were approved by their staff well in advance. Their customer relations department has engaged in sophistry and stonewalling of the worst kind in order to defend their rogue employee's horrible decision and false statements.

I will never fly on Lufthansa again or trust them in any way.

See no evil! The Old Man and the C

Modernizing the curriculum

Devoting attention to images, imagery, photography and visual literacy is no longer a luxury or a peripheral challenge for schools. Given the ongoing weight of such images in most forms of modern communication, our students must be savvy and skillful as producers and consumers of images in order to participate fully in the society. A school's failure to stress images, imagery, photography and visual literacy is a failure to keep up with the times and a disservice to the students.


Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and other writers, artists and photographers. Written materials on these pages may be distributed and duplicated if unchanged in format and content in hard copy only by school districts and universities provided there is no charge to the recipient. They may also be e-mailed from person to person. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted. FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.


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