The Decision

Working through my three experiments was a great learning opportunity because I was able to dive into the conventions of genres that I was unfamiliar with. After analyzing examples of photo-essays, food recommendation articles, and open letters, I have decided to fully realize a restaurant review article. This piece will be written from my perspective as a young adult who, while growing up, made frequent trips into New York City for the singular purpose of eating. I am writing about a restaurant called Pera Soho, and specifically exploring the brunch experience at this restaurant. I am writing to people who are looking for a place to dine that offers the trendy, aesthetically pleasing brunch that Instagram influencers often seek without compromising on quality food. What makes this recommendation more interesting is the cuisine–it is a Middle Eastern restaurant, instead of the usual avocado toast and green juice offered at most brunch spots. I want to lean into that aspect of the review because most popular restaurants on social media are essentially clones of the same whitewashed version of “good food.” I think that this restaurant, and many others like it, are underrated by the general public due to the more ethnic cuisine they serve.

This experiment honestly excited me the most because I like the flexibility it offers with inserting my own experiences into the piece. I want to be able to truly channel something that I am passionate about into the final product, and food in New York City is genuinely one of my favorite topics to discuss. I also look forward to being able to write in a narrative style for this piece and really transport the audience into a dining experience at Pera Soho. Overall, I think I will have a lot of fun playing around with the best way to tell a compelling story through the conventions of an article-style piece.

It is incredibly commonplace for people to search up restaurant recommendations on the Internet before the make a reservation somewhere. This article is framed as a restaurant recommendation and will therefore be proliferated in that context. As a result, I believe that my message about the world of quality, ethnic cuisine that exists on the fringes of American brunch culture will reach my intended audience, whether or not that was the message my audience intended to find. I would like to write this piece with the intent of publishing it in The New York Times in order to lend more credibility and weight to what is ultimately an opinion piece. Although the connotation of the NYT implies a more serious, adult readership, but the Internet would essentially make this review accessible to any demographic.

Experiment 3 Reflection

For my third experiment, I decided to go with a genre that is more personal and text heavy than my previous ones. I chose to look into doing an open letter, specifically one addressed to the University of Michigan Office of Undergraduate Admissions. I have limited experience with reading open letters and I have never written one before, so this genre presented me with a unique challenge. My previous experiments were definitely in areas that I was more familiar with, so I had to do my research and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit more for this one. I ended up really liking the flexibility of this genre in terms of content–an open letter can be written to just about anyone regarding just about anything. I also really liked how complex the audience of this genre is; on the surface, it seems like open letters are written pretty explicitly for a specific audience, namely the subject that is addressed in the title. However, this genre actually has a lot of power that is derived from its secondary intent to reach a broader, more implicit audience.

I think that a fully realized version of this experiment would end up being a lot more personal than my proposal was initially geared toward. One of the greatest affordances of the open letter is the validity of personal experience it allows for. Instead of having a completely evidence-driven letter recounting the empirical ways in which the college admissions process is unfair, my fully realized open letter would definitely lean on my own experience applying to, getting rejected from, and ultimately committing to college.

The foundation of the narrative behind my origin experience is a fight that my parents and I got into regarding college applications my senior year of high school. The stress that college applications and admissions causes is definitely key to my origin piece. This experiment would basically pull at that thread and push it into the current conversation about a legitimate issue that needs to be discussed. College admissions is something that is really salient to people my age, especially those who come from lower income, first generation, and/or minority backgrounds. Also, due to the recent college admissions scandal, I felt like doing a piece oriented toward this subject matter is incredibly relevant beyond my origin piece.

A fully realized version of this would require me to dive a little bit deeper into the conventional balance between the personal subject matter and its broader, more objective application. Otherwise, it does not really require me to pick up any additional skills. The open letter would just have to be typed up and then published on some sort of platform. This could be a personal blog or it could be a newspaper’s website. Ideally, due to the subject matter that my open letter deals with, this piece would be published in an outlet like the Michigan Daily, which is the University’s main newspaper. From here, it would be shared through social media, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, in order to fully make its intended impact.

Experiment 2 Reflection

I genuinely had no idea which genre I wanted to explore going into the second experiment, but I knew the aspect of my origin piece that I wanted to write about. In my origin piece, which is a reflective narrative about my relationship with my best friend Lindsay, I write about an incredibly fun day in New York City that she and I had. In the piece, I touch upon a hole in the wall dim sum place we went to, and I decided that I wanted to somehow write about food in NYC.

Initially I was confused about how to write about this through a genre that I found interesting, but then I realized a restaurant review article could be really cool. I have read many of these, so I’m fairly familiar with it, but I have never written one. Lindsay is actually a food blogger so I have some comfort with the genre through her, too. For a fully realized version of this, I would choose to go with an in depth review of one restaurant’s dining experience rather than a top 10 list. I think it would make it more personal since I could write it in narrative style, so my voice could better shine through.

There are definitely conventions surrounding this genre that I’m not fully familiar with, especially in terms of actually going to a restaurant with the intention of reviewing it. In terms of equipment, I just need my laptop to write and my phone to take notes and pictures with. I would want to publish this on a site like The New York Times or Eater. I want it to reach a broad audience and be easily searchable. While a restaurant guide like The Infatuation would also be really cool to write for, that publication mostly does top 10 lists and therefore wouldn’t give me room to be creative and really flex my writing ability.

Experiment 1 Reflection

I had no experience with this genre at the start of the experiment cycle. Although I had previously read a few photoessays, I had never read them with the conscious purpose of understanding the conventions of the genre and the intentions of the writer. My research showed me just how flexible photoessays can be, which is a quality that I find really appealing. The text and the photographs can interact in so many different ways in order to fulfill the purpose of the writer. The one drawback for me is my lack of photography experience; I enjoy taking photos as a hobby, but my lack of any professional skills in the field would definitely make that aspect more difficult.

I think my project could actually be a really interesting and reflective photoessay on how students with different background have different relationships with their parents after transitioning from living at home to living at school. I initially thought that the photos would be portrait-style of each subject with their parents. After researching, however, I realized that the essays with photos that had some type of movement were more dynamic and engaging to me. A fully realized version of this experiment would show the subject and their parents interacting in an environment or situation that spoke to their relationship.

My origin piece is only loosely related to the direction that my experiment has gone in, as I had only briefly discussed what my relationship with my parents was like in high school. For this piece, I fully embraced the idea of exploring parent-child relationships, and I made it into more of a comparative analysis. Instead of simply reflecting on my own life, I want the photoessay to be a point of analysis and critical thinking that forces people to evaluate how their upbringing has affected them.

I would still need to research more examples in order to learn the most effective way to weave my subjects’ stories in between the photographs. I don’t want the essay portion of the photoessay to just be captions that describe what’s happening in the photos. I want it to be more of a story about independence and parent-child relationships, with the photos naturally supplementing the narrative.

I would need a good digital camera to photograph my subjects. I would also need to learn the technical skills required to take good action shots of my subjects in various lighting situations. This would require practice and patience due to my lack of photography experience. Other than that, this genre just requires some sort of platform on which I can juxtapose text and photographs. Realistically, I would publish this piece on a personal blog and have it available for public viewing. However, I would ideally like it to be featured in a publication like The New York Times or The New Yorker as a lifestyle piece.

Overall, this experiment cycle has introduced me to a genre that I had very little experience with before. After researching, I have gained more of an appreciation for the photoessay., and I now want to explore more examples of the genre across different publishing platforms. I am really interested in fully realizing this piece and playing with this genre more.

A Day in the Life of a Photojournalist

For my first experiment, I am doing a photoessay. One of the writers whose pieces I researched for this genre is Bryan Denton, a freelance photographer and photojournalist. Based between New Delhi and Beirut, Denton is a contributing photographer for The New York Times and also does commissions for publications and humanitarian organizations. His work largely focuses on humanitarian conflicts and crises in North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Denton’s research is mostly conducted on the job. He visits the location of the conflict he is researching and then takes photographs of what he sees in the field. The text of his photoessay comes from interviews conducted of his subjects and stories he picks up while he is photographing. Any factual information that is needed to provide context is filled in through outside research from experts. For example, his piece “At the Front in a Scarred Falluja” places the focus on the photographs. The text is mostly information that he learned from his subjects and some historical facts about the fighting in Iraq and the actions of the Islamic State.

When conducting his own projects, Denton can choose where to go, what to take photos of, and how to write about his work. These pieces are then uploaded to his personal blog or portfolio. However, when he is working on commission for The New York Times or a different publication/organization, his choices are a bit more restricted. The overarching subject and direction of his work is then dictated by the editors of the publication. Of course, what he chooses to photograph is ultimately in his control since this part of his work happens in the moment while he is on location. Which photos ultimately end up being published and the content of the text, however, must go through the editors and publishers.

He negotiates a contract and receives a commission for the work he does for publications and humanitarian organizations. However, the photography he does on his own is not attached to a contract. The compensation, if any, for those pieces comes through sponsors and advertising.

Ultimately, Denton has a good amount of freedom and discretion in his work, since freelance photography and photojournalism leave a lot of the control in the hands of the photographer.

More Than Just a “Thing”

Everyone has a “thing”–that one special talent or skill or interest that makes an individual recognizable among a group of people. For as far back as I can remember, writing has always been that thing for me. Enjoying writing is not a groundbreaking interest, but it still made me an anomaly among my friends and family. Once my parents realized that their daughter was not, in fact, a math and science superstar, they were actually incredibly encouraging of my interest in reading and writing. I grew up in Montville, New Jersey, and I have been blessed with some incredible English teachers throughout high school who helped me progress my expository and narrative writing abilities. I decided to pursue the Minor in Writing to further develop my love for writing and push the boundaries of the genres that I’m comfortable with. I anticipate majoring in Public Policy or Political Science and then going to law school, which are all fields that rely heavily on the written word. Due to how integral it is to my career, writing is now more than just a “thing” for me–it is the foundation of everything I plan to do for a long time.

For my origin piece, I decided to use a reflective narrative that I wrote for English 124 during my freshman year. It’s about Christmas Day during my senior year of high school, when I got into an argument with my parents over college applications and ended up spending the whole day in the city with my best friend. I really enjoyed writing this piece because I hadn’t really had an opportunity to explore a personal story in my writing since high school. I originally wrote it with the intention of focusing on my relationship with my best friend, but there are some interesting themes in there about parenting and the parent/child dynamic, along with other possible threads. I think it will be a good way to start my experimentation because it gives me room to explore different topics & genres; I may even do a photo essay about different subjects’ relationships with their parents. I look forward to working with this origin piece and seeing where this project ultimately ends up.