Class 7.3

Photo Essay Storyboard

A storyboard will help you think analytically about the choices you make as you assemble your photo essay.

To give you a sense of what this might look like, here’s a storyboard created by CGS student Mira Sachdeva. Note how the box just below each photo identifies its theme, while the larger box at bottom outlines the photo’s design principles.

I’m not going to make you sketch your photographs using paper and pencil, but I do want you to give serious thought to the themes, structure and design principles of your photo essay. So I’ve created a Google Slides template you can use to create a simple storyboard.

You will need to turn in a complete storyboard along with your final photo essay. For today’s HW, see if you can get two or three slides done, and post a link below.

Course Evaluations: link

Class 7.2

The Shot List

Today’s homework asks you to think about the order of the images in your photo essay: what kind of image should come first? What does that first image do? What does the last image do? What other tasks should be accomplished in between?

This brief primer provides a list of key shots you may want to include in your photo essay:

  • The Establishing Shot—the reader’s introduction to your topic
  • The Signature Photo—an image that summarizes your take on the issue
  • The Clincher—the photo that ends the story

The primer also includes several other important types of image (Close-Up, Portrait, etc.), but these three play a vital, structural role in a photo essay. For homework, identify from your image collection a photograph that might play one of those roles in your project and post it below.

Class 7.1

Photographic Techniques

A good photo essay depends in no small part on creating striking photographs. For class today, read this brief primer on photography, then post a photo of your own in the comments below.

Difficulty Posting Photographs? If the file has the extension .jpeg, rename it to .jpg. If it’s a different kind of file, open it in Preview and Save As a .jpg OR take a screenshot to create a .png. Both .jpg and .png files should upload just fine.

Class 6.4

Exploring the World through Photographs

Months back, we heard Christy Wampole speak about the essay as an exploratory mode of writing associated with the Age of Discovery, an era when Europeans set their sights on owning the world. Then, earlier this week we read Susan Sontag proclaiming that “To collect photographs is to collect the world” (3). No wonder, then that photography has proven such a rich basis for creating meaning in the genre of the photo essay.

For the upcoming photo essay assignment, we’re asking you to use photography in explore the world you live in—or perhaps a world from which you feel excluded. Here are some thoughts on the genre by one of my colleagues, Stephanie Byttebier:

A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story. As we’ve seen, while photos are often considered incapable of lying because they “quote” from reality rather than altering it, pictures by themselves in isolation (both in time and space) are also often ambiguous and necessarily incomplete. Over time, the subjects of photos become distant and alien to their viewers. John Berger suggests that by creating stories with pictures, we can remedy such ambiguity and alienation by re-creating a “living context” that establishes a field of meaning that makes the photos come to life.


Unlike typical stories (say a written, oral, or video story), however, photo essays can’t provide continuous, seamless narrative meaning, since they are composed of single and “frozen” snapshots.  Therefore, the connections between images are always to a certain degree jarring and surprising. It is your job in this photo essay to compose a story that capitalizes on such surprise by helping the viewer see and build connections between your images. Together, they should contribute to a complex web of meaning that stimulates reflection on your topic and shows the things presented in a new and revealing light.

To give you a better sense of the genre at its best, here are two examples of the form:

For class, post a brief response to one of the following prompts:

  1. What role does the introduction play? Point to at least one example.
  2. What role do captions play? Point to at least one example.
  3. Stephanie Byttebier asserts that photo-to-photo transitions are always jarring, advising the photo essayist to “capitalize on such surprise” and “help the viewer see and build connections.” Point to a moment where you see this happening in one of the examples we looked at.

Class 6.3

Class Pre-Empted

On Wednesday, all BU classes are being cancelled to create space for a day of collective engagement on the topics of racism, antiracism and our roles in creating our shared reality. Events begin at 8:30am; full schedule here.

Class 6.2

Images that Matter

In the second half (pp12-24) of the first essay from Sontag’s On Photography, she turns from the private to public functions of photography. As suggested by her essay’s title, “In Plato’s Cave,” Sontag worries that photographic images don’t compel us to grapple with the real-world, but rather become a substitute for it. That feels counter-intuitive today, at a moment when images and video play a dominant role in national political debate. But it was also counter-intuitive in October 1973, six months after US troops pulled out of Vietnam—a war fought on US television screens no less than in Vietnamese jungle paths. So let’s consider her ideas carefully, not dismiss them over hastily.

For homework, as yesterday, please post one of Sontag’s more interesting claims from the second half of the reading, attaching to your comment a relevant image from the present day: something you’ve photographed, or something you’ve encountered in news reporting or on social media.

Class 6.1

Thinking Photographically

On Photography is a collection of essays written by Susan Sontag in the 1970s and originally published in the New York Review of Books. Sontag is a provocative writer, engaging our attention with startling and often counterintuitive claims about the function of photographic imagery in our society. She writes as a public intellectual rather than as an academic—you’ll note the absence of footnotes or other source citation. Some of her analysis may seem outdated in the digital era, but other points will strike you as truer now than ever before.

That dynamic is something I want you to watch for as you read the first half (pp1-12) of the first essay from Sontag’s book, linked above. As you read, consider how her claims about the social and cultural roles of photography play out in the present day. Look for opportunities to make connections to the way you and your friends use digital images on social media At the same time, be sensitive to differences, whether dramatic or merely nuanced, between the photographic culture of the 1970s as described by Sontag and the mobile phone/social media landscape of the present day.

For homework, please post one of Sontag’s more interesting claims, attaching to your comment a photograph you’ve taken OR a screengrab from an image-centered social media exchange that strikes you as jibing (positively or negatively) with what Sontag said.

Note: if you encounter problems with the photo upload, try editing the photo in Preview or Photoshop, changing the file type to .jpg or even .png. If that doesn’t work, save it as a .pdf and upload that.

Class 5.4

Wall-E on the Rubbish-Heap of History

Yesterday I asked you to reflect on Harari’s vision of humanity’s future in the final pages of Sapiens; last night you witnessed Andrew Stanton’s very different account in the Pixar movie Wall-E. Given the many differences, I’m interested in learning what these two have in common. Give a brief analysis, citing evidence from both sources, identifying a common strand in their thinking.

Class 5.3

The End of Nature

Read Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens, Chapter 20 and Afterword, pp 397-416. If you don’t have your copy handy from last semester, you can download the relevant pages here.

In the final pages of his book, Harari looks forward with no little dread to the prospect of godlike powers. In what sense does this portend the end of the traditional notion of “Nature”? of “God”? of “Humanity”? Write a brief but thoughtful reflection. Aim for concision; aim for profundity.

Class 5.2

Going Deeper on Vietnam

Identify an academic secondary source on the Vietnam War or Vietnam-era protest culture as a possible reference point for your upcoming essay. Post a bibliographic entry, together with a brief general-purpose synopsis, identifying the topic and key insight (thesis).

After the synopsis, in boldface, give one sentence specifying what role this source might play in your upcoming essay. Does it provide a preliminary understanding of protest culture, with your essay adding new insight? Does it provide crucial context for understanding a source you plan to analyze in your essay?