Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Location: Tapachula, Mexico
Photographer: Daniele Volpe
Source: UNHCR/Daniele Volpe
Moises Sanchez (centre), 20, talks to a UNHCR protection officer while his brothers, Anderson, 17, and Jairo, 14, listen on the porch of their apartment in Tapachula, southwest Mexico, close to the border with Guatemala.
Background: The Sanchez brothers’ family had a comfortable life running a shop in El Salvador until a gang threatened them with extortion — demanding monthly rent or violence towards the family. When the gang tried to force the middle brother, Anderson, to join them, the boys fled with their father, who later abandoned them in Mexico.
In 2015, 110,000 people escaped the Northern Triangle to seek asylum in Mexico or elsewhere. Severing family and community ties is heart-wrenching and risky, especially for children and young adults, but many feel they have no other option. Young people face the increased risk of exploitation from people-smugglers and the dangers of encountering robbers or sexual abusers along the way.
Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.
Program 1 A Closer Look (video)
This introduction to the course models the process of analyzing photographs with teachers and students. Photography historian Makeda Best discusses the Focus In method with teachers, and educator Julie Keefe employs the method with students at a photography exhibit on "light and dark." Photography curator at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan discusses how she carefully selects a set of photographs to tell a larger story.
Program 2 Witness (video)
Photographs bear witness to world events and help us to learn more about people, places, and situations -- historical and present day. Middle school teacher Donald Rose guides students in analyzing photos from school integration movements of the 1960s. Documentary film producer Ken Burns weaves photographs into historical narratives to bring the past to life. Photojournalist Louie Palu's photos take us deep into mines and war zones, and engage us with the individuals who take on those tasks.
Program 3 Lives (video)
Lives explores the story of human resilience and perseverance. Middle school teacher Donald Rose uses the Migrant Mother photos by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange to help students understand what elements a photographer chooses to focus on to create the greatest impact. Historian Linda Gordon, biographer of FSA photographer Dorothea Lange reveals Lange's role in engaging Americans in the plight of those who were most devastated. New Orleans documentary photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick talk about the transformation of their photographs after Hurricane Katrina and working with young photographers to preserve the city's cultural heritage.
video 4 Evidence (video)
An image can show us otherwise invisible processes, previously undiscovered life forms, and dramatic change over time. High school teacher Rima Givot engages her students with highly magnified photos of mouse muscle to study genetically modified organisms. Scientist and photomicrographer Dennis Kunkel demonstrates the fascinating process of creating photographs of the microscopic world. Environmental photographer Gary Braasch reports on his worldwide travels to document the state of the planet through repeat photography.
Program 5 Story (video)
Every photograph tells a story: of struggle, of beauty, of community and culture. Social studies teacher Kim Kanof uses photos from the Protests and Politics collection to teach about protests around in the world in 1968. National Geographic photo editor Pamela Chen details the collaborative process of creating photo-based feature stories with design director David Whitmore. Iowa photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier discusses his work documenting the residents and images of marginalized communities across the United States.