Visual Literacy in Neighborhood Diaries

While thinking through ideas for Kalam’s citizen journalism project — Neighborhood Diaries (ND) — I’ve been reading Wendy Ewald’s I Wanna Take me A Picture, a seminal work on the pedagogy of Literacy through Photography (LTP).

In an earlier post, Bishan shared visions for the curriculum of ND, outlining pertinent themes to ground young practioners in as they engage in the process of documenting and narrating intimate and local worlds through photography and writing.

Ewald in her practice of LTP stresses the the importance of teaching young people how to “read images” as a fundamental step before launching young practitioners into the process of photography and writing. I think this a crucial component for us to consider in ND’s curriculum — the component of Visual Literacy. ND will be working with youth living in slum settlements, red-light areas and other neighborhoods, which are often visually incarcerated in tropes of “the poor,” “the unhygienic,” or “the criminal,” in many popular discourses. Our curriculum needs to encourage and guide young residents to critically think about visual representations of neighborhoods like their own, as well as,  explore the politics of  the  gaze. I think its important for the young practitioners to recognize, interpret and interrogate the Outsider’s Gaze in order for them to realize their own Gaze and its difference. As Ewald says,

Reading the photograph helps students progress from observing the details of an image to trying to understand the story behind it. In reading this way, we’ve laid the groundwork for the children’s more nuanced examination of other images, and for their thoughtful planning of their own photographs. Through the process of reading photographs, children can begin to understand that photographs do indeed convey the emotions of their subjects – not simply because of the some magic inherent in the subject itself, but through the choices the photographer makes and the way in which images are made.

For our curriculum we should consider keeping the first few sessions around Visual Literacy. But what about visual literacy? And what activities would be effective to stimulate visual literacy? These are good questions. Questions I don’t have the answer to. But I think its a good inquiry we should engage in as Educators. Its a direction we should consider exploring as we think through Neighborhood Diaries as a pilot project and curriculum-in-the-making.

posted by Sahar Romani

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