Educator Goes Street For July 4th

July 4th is one of Boston’s best annual community events.  The world famous Boston Pops Orchestra stages a free public concert at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.  For those true musical patriots who seek the glory of premium seating – prepare to camp overnight.   Only those brave citizens risking life and poor cellular service will persevere to awaken in one of several columns sleeping toward the moment of truth, 9:00 AM!

I recently completed a 4-day street photography course taught by B.D. Colen, a noted journalist and photographer.   The central principle of street photography is to accurately document public events through the art and craft of photography.  As an educator on the front lines of helping public school teachers integrate technology into their teaching practice, I’m struck by the similarities of street photography and teaching in the 21st century.

First, the tech savvy teacher and the street photographer need to be passionate about connecting with their subjects, sometimes risking rejection.  The most difficult workshop assignment was to “get close” to complete strangers in order to capture the moment.  B.D. challenged us to set our camera’s zoom lens to a single wide-angle setting in the 35-50mm range and be no more than 10ft from our intended subject.   The gold standard of street photography is capturing people head on, immersed in the moment without regard to the camera.

Second, while everyone seems to have a digital device that captures images and video,  developing the ability to anticipate and SEE the moments worth documenting requires great observational skill.  The same is certainly true of the teacher who must judiciously scan a classroom full of students and make decisions about when to redirect her lesson or assist an individual student.    Good street photography freezes those meaningful moments of human interaction from a simple embrace to the shared wonder of an amazing fireworks display.  As I set about snapping photos throughout the day, it became apparent that a wide range of people just naturally welcome digital cameras and mobile phones into their lives.  The challenge for street photographers and teachers is how to document meaningful interactions between people when they are increasingly online.  For instance, in the photograph, Weeping Willow Boy and Flags, the boy appears to be relaxing in the tree oblivious to his surroundings.  If you examine the image closely, he’s got an MP3 player and a minute later he was furiously texting as he still laid comfortably in the tree.  Last week at ISTE’s 2010 conference in Denver, CO, Elliot Soloway predicted that within 5 years every American student would have a mobile learning device (MLD).   Should teachers welcome MLDs into their classrooms?  Will all students become street photographers?

My final point involves the 21st century skill of communication and collaboration.  My approach as a photographer is to sit back, wait a bit, and frame my images before snapping.  Given this reserved approach, I netted about 500 images that B.D. asked me to cut in half.  I then submitted my images for peer review with four other classmates.   Our ultimate goal was to each tell the story of Boston’s July 4th celebration through a series of 30 photographs.  To learn the art of good street photography we viewed and discussed photographs from books by, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank.  Sure, you can see many of their most famous images on the web, but the printed photographs speak more loudly.  If you are a digital educator, you certainly understand the challenge faced by many students who need to learn good editing and synthesis skills as they confront the shear volume of data easily collected with today’s digital devices.  What images would your students select for publication in a book?

Read more about Street Photography on the Digital Grin forum.

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