The Photo Essay and Digital Composition

https://research.usc.edu/usc-symposium-on-digital-media-research-education-and-innovation/

Although I’m only twenty-two years old, digital compositions are more complex (and more amazing and accessible) than when I was going through grade school. Now, there are simple and free ways for anyone to be published to a wider audience on the internet that go beyond the simple power point presentations we seemed to do so much in school. These digital presentations were familiar and used daily in school, and good ones involve a skill that’s also valued in online digital composition today: multimodal composition. A multimodal presentation would include more than one digital resource, like text, sound, video, and pictures. Although text is generally a must, pictures help learners and readers visualize the point that the writer is trying to make.

One form of composition that I just recently heard of is the photo essay. In this type of composition, the writer strategically arranges photos and (attached to appropriate captions or maybe an accompanying text essay) in order to let the pictures say things that don’t necessarily need to be written to be understood by the reader. For example, here’s one from the New York Times about something as simple as flotsam from the sea: The Peculiar Beauty of Flotsam. On a much different note, popular media also publishes various versions of the photo essay (I think there may be another name for this), most prominently on Buzzfeed: see 12 Heart-Wrenching Photos of House Keys in the Hands of Refugees.

In photo essays, I think one necessary skill is organization. If things are out of order, it’s noticeable. Another skill is having the ability to crystallize information enough that each idea (or two) can be encapsulated in a picture and smart caption. The writer must think, “What picture will show what I need the reader to understand? What makes the most sense and drives my point home?” Because a writer would be using these skills, I could see a photo essay project becoming a helpful part of a student’s digital portfolio, though perhaps not as a project on its own. This digital profile might be created on a blog or Wiki, and can be a simple, low-cost, way to let students publish and collect their own work.

~ Sarah

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3 responses to “The Photo Essay and Digital Composition

  1. Hi Sarah. I see you’re an ESL minor. The great thing about photos is that they’re a universal language, and I can see a photo essay as a fantastic project for English Language Learners. Given the brevity of captions, I can see how the writing portion would be un-intimidating, or at least quite manageable, while still navigating the writing process. I could see how this would be a good project with English-speaking students, too, as an exercise in determining importance–it’s much easier to write long than to write short.

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  2. Pingback: Reflecting upon a Semester of Blogging | Live and Lit Love·

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