Intro To The Photo Essay…

For my second experiment I want to try a photo essay. After my last genre X, I wanted to try something a little more abstract. I’ve yet to hear of anyone in my class interested in trying a photo essay, so I was drawn to doing something new and exciting. I’ve always loved photography. I may even be a little photo-obsessed considering I have almost 5,000 pictures on my phone at the moment. But, whether it’s capturing memories with family and friends, or beautiful landscapes and buildings of places I’ve travelled, I love taking photos.

What also sparked my interest in a photo essay was a piece I wrote last year in English 325. The paper took a very different approach to analyzing photography, arguing that society has become increasingly image-based and that we may be missing out on important moments, instead living behind the lens. I’m interested in transforming those ideas into almost a counterargument against my own argumentative essay. Looking back on it, I question whether or not I fully believed the points I made against the overuse of photography. I definitely do wonder if spending too much time taking photos is harmful, possibly taking away from real experiences. But, what about the special moments that can only be captured with a photo? With the genre of a photo essay, I want to not only demonstrate the amazing things photography can do, but also write with photos.

In terms of what the genre is- I did a little research. According to Wikipedia, (I know not a great source but I’m just trying to get some basic info here), “A photo-essay is a set or series of photographs that are made to create series of emotions in the viewer. A photo essay will often show pictures in deep emotional stages. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small comments to full text essays illustrated with photographs.”

So, from this I learned a photo essay can range in the amount of writing it chooses to include and sparking emotion is important. But then again, isn’t this the primary purpose of most writing? I’m interested in experimenting with the use of captions in my own piece.

Then, after reading a photography blog post called Collective Lens, I learned there are a few important elements in the photo essay genre:

  1. The story– Your essay should be able to stand alone, without a written article, and make logical sense to the viewer.
  2. A range of photos: A variety of photos (wide angle, detailed, portraits etc.) should be included. See the types of photos section discussed below.
  3. The order of the photos: It is important that the order of your photos effectively tell a story, in an interesting and logical sequence.
  4. Information and emotion: Your photos should include both informational and emotional photos. Those essays that effectively evoke emotion while providing information tend to convey their messages the best.
  5. Captions: In a photo essay, captions are your best opportunity to describe what is happening in words and ensure that the viewer understands. Include informational content in these captions if necessary.

The elements above actually didn’t strike me as too different from your average essay. They still demonstrate theme, emotion, require a topic or “story” to tell, and order matters. Yet, I love the freedom and ambiguity placed on how much/how little to include writing, and how much/how little information you should give the audience on what it actually is they’re viewing.

I’m excited to begin the process of my first photo essay!

2 thoughts to “Intro To The Photo Essay…”

  1. I think it is really unique that you are experimenting with a photo essay. I like how you have selected a genre that aligns with your personal and life-long passion for photography. I have very little experience with readings photo essays before but I know one way that makes them unique is the way that writer chooses to edit their photos, whether that be no editing, black and white, saturating the images and so on. These edits have the ability to change the mood of the piece as a whole. For example, a black and white photo essay can make the mood more dark, old-fashioned and serious. Have you put any thought into how you are going to edit these images for your photo essay? I am really excited to see what you do with this genre!

  2. This is such a cool genre to explore! I think that in most cases a large obstacle to pursuing something like a photo essay is the creation of the actual photographs, but based on what we talked about in class it seems like you already have a great plan to get around that. I can’t wait to see how this piece comes out, and I’m particularly interested in what emotions you plan to evoke and whether you want to give your audience more or less written information.

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