In the Salt photo track I require my students to write about their field experiences during the semester. Feb 14, 2009 was their first required blog entry…
Here are a few excerpts from student field notes about the Do1Thing project:
…. we were connected with a twenty-one year old man named Dustin. Dustin was full of energy and optimism. It was clear after spending a few hours with Dustin that he has survived by emphasizing positive aspects of his life.
…When we arrived at the in-take center, the coordinator Jill greeted us in a very friendly manner. She introduced us to Elizabeth (name changed), 22, who thanked us for coming. It felt extremely humbling to receive her gratitude—as if we were doing her a favor, which is how she saw it: giving her a chance to tell her story. Before we photographed, it felt appropriate to let Elizabeth tell us her story. In retrospect, it was a good choice. Even though the good afternoon light slowly disappeared as she spoke, I would have felt disconnected photographing her without knowing her—or with only knowing her as a “victim”—and she would have been far less comfortable.
… Sheena was extremely open with us and told us a lot about her life and how she had ended up becoming homeless. It was quite an interesting experience for me as I’m not used to experiencing things like poverty and homelessness in my own country (with no language barrier to contend with). It made me feel far less removed from the situation, as if it were something that could just as easily have happened to me.
… Because I’ve wanted to work as a documentary photographer for awhile, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the issues WITHIN documentary photography but, until Saturday, I hadn’t really considered the issues of BEING a documentary photographer. After several hours in Lewiston with Dustin, hearing the story of how he’d been in state care since the age of 18 months, listening to how his mother had OD’ed twice while he was in the womb, and driving from shelter to shelter to shelter to see how he’d lived, I realized two things: 1) I owed my parents an apology and 2) I lacked faith. Regarding number two, I mean that I lacked faith in the belief system of documentary photography. Most specifically, the idea that, by documenting the life of someone in a state of crisis (whether that’s because of a medical condition, financial situation, war, etc.), I can show the world what these people are dealing with and the audience, in turn, can bring about change.
Director of Photography Salt Institute for Documentary Studies