Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Focus in on this Photo: Classroom in Sittwe, Myanmar, 2015
Location: Sittwe, Myanmar
Photographer: Lynsey Addario
Source: Image from the Annenberg Space for Photography’s REFUGEE Exhibition
A volunteer teacher tutors Rohingya children in a makeshift classroom in the Thae Chaung IDP camp.
Nine people sit on the ground with open books and folders. In the foreground, two children appear to share a text. Most of group sits across from one another, while two children sit behind. They appear to be indoors, and they sit near an open door, which lights the pages of their books. The children are young, looking to be between approximately 7 to 10 years old. Near the door sits an older person, likely the teacher.
The books and materials look old and tattered, and the children do not have pencils or notebooks.
The scene is dark, but the colorful clothing and accessories worn by the figures introduces variation in the composition.
Although the children are studying in this room, it also appears the room is a living space. The edge of a clothesline is visible above the door. On the right, at the back of room, is a stack of cushions and blankets.
On the right side of the picture, mostly in shadow, a young boy smiles at the person taking the photograph.
Build on Your Observations
Though they sit in an organized manner, the lack of lighting and the conditions of the room suggest this is not a traditional classroom.
By photographing the scene from above, the photographer illustrates both the class and their surroundings.
The row of people and the placement of the books introduces rhythm into the photograph and a sense of organization, even within an improvised setting. The children and their teacher are serious about learning. This tone is further conveyed by the bowed heads and facial expressions of the children.
The caption indicates that these children are Rohingya. Wikipedia indicates that “the Rohingya people are Muslim Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State, Myanmar.” They are minorities in Myanmar and lack legal protection from the government. They are denied citizenship and face severe restrictions on marriage, employment, health care, education, and — now — daily movement. They also face intimidation and violence. According to the UNHCR, violence between Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities has been especially heavy since 2012. Observers have reported the massacre of thousands of Rohingya. In 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 418, urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.
The caption indicates that the children are internally displaced and live in a refugee camp. From the conditions depicted in the photograph and the fact that the tutor is a volunteer, it appears the camp lacks adequate infrastructure and resources to address the needs of its inhabitants.
Formulate Further Questions
Given the apparently desperate circumstances, why is an education important for children who are displaced? What are these children studying?
What have been the barriers to aid efforts to help the Rohingya?
What do you think the photographer seeks to communicate through this picture?
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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.