Introduction to the Photo Essay

For my second experiment, I decided to do a photo essay. I’ve never really explored this medium before so I’m really excited about trying it.

I also think this will be a really cool way to reimagine my origin piece (my college essay). My college essay focused on me and my first experiment–an op-ed–still included quite a bit of my own experience but also aimed to more broadly speak to the college essay itself–what it is, if they are truly representative of individuals, what they should be, etc. I think a photo essay will be a great medium to get to explore the representativeness of individuals, both at the time they were written (approximately the end of junior/beginning of senior year of high school) and now. I craft my photo essay similarly to Humans of New York, which is a blog based in New York City which features photos of individuals with quoted brief stories about themselves and their thoughts and experiences. I plan to ask some of my friends and peers how they feel their college essay represented them when they wrote it, what they aimed to convey, and how true their college essay is now, approximately three years later. This testament will be paired with a picture of the individual which well represents their personality and/or the topic of their essay.

Photo essays are a genre that allows for quite a bit of flexibility and creativity. Generally, the point is for a series of photos to tell a story, often accompanied by text–but the photos are the core of the project, as the primary point that people will see, think about, and imagine a story for before even reading the text–which is why capturing pictures that represent my friends and their experiences is so important. Humans of New York is a bit different than a typical photo essay, but I think it’s the best format for me for this project.

Some important elements of a photo essay are:

  • the story that is conveyed through the pictures alone
  • a variety of photos that keep viewers interested and engaged
  • ordering the photos in such a way that they effectively create a narrative and follow a logical sequence
  • being both informational and emotional
  • including captions that provide descriptions to ensure the viewer understands the story you’re telling

Ultimately, the most powerful parts of photo essays are the emotional and representative aspects, creating a strong narrative. A lot of people have really interesting stories and college essay topics, and I am excited to attempt to capture them through my photo essay.

An example of a photo essay:

My friend Michelle’s photo essay (her MiW Gateway final project):

Some of my favorite HONY posts:

2 thoughts to “Introduction to the Photo Essay”

  1. I am so excited about this topic, Olivia! I think that there is such a wide range of stories to be told, and meaningful information to be shared. I can already picture people sitting, pondering, laughing, maybe even cringing about their college essays (I know I would). I am not well versed in the world of photo essays, but I think they hold such a strong storytelling power. Have you seen the recent New York Times feature, “This is 18”? It is more interactive than the typical photo essay, but I believe that it would still count. It seems to have some of the conventions that you listed. What do you think?

  2. I also transitioned from an op-ed to a photo essay, but in a very different way since I’m focusing on social activism. It will be so interesting to see how our experiments turn out! I love the idea of using HONY as an inspiration in your photo essay, because I feel like photo essays as a genre relay such emotion, and I almost cry every time I read HONY. How do you think you will relay that emotion in your photo essay?

Leave a Reply