Documentary Photography students are gaining new techniques to bring awareness to social issues through their work, all through experiences that leave a lasting impression. The Special Topics in Photography class (ART 357) focused on Documentary Photography is led by Associate Professor Jimmie Allen. As an Integrated Service Learning class, it centers around conveying the missions of local nonprofit organizations to inspire social change.
The session of the course for the fall 2021 semester began with a month-long partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield. While working together as a class, students were encouraged to research social issues and local organizations that they wanted to focus on for their own individual projects. To provide additional guidance for students, Aaron Scott from Community Foundation of the Ozarks visited the class with resources such as a list of nonprofits to potentially work with, contact information for the organizations, and Community Focus Reports that helped students assess opportunities and areas for improvement within the community. During the fall semester, students focused their projects towards topics on water conservation, animal rescue, food insecurity, homelessness, immigration, and mental health.
There are several benefits for students and the nonprofits involved throughout the process of this class. For the nonprofits, partnering with a photography student is an opportunity to share the organization’s mission. Nonprofits also gain free access to the use of students’ photos for use on social media, websites, posters, and other promotional materials. For students, this class acts as a chance to make valuable connections that could lead to additional job opportunities in the future. Students also challenged themselves as artists by stepping outside of their typical comfort zones. Erin Hillery shares what she learned from her time working with Watershed Committee of the Ozarks:
It’s easy for me to want to blend into the background, but for this sort of documentary work it’s helpful to learn to be unafraid of doing what you’ve got to do to get the shot. This lesson has continued to be useful to me in my work since . . . This was a great real-world experience class and quite different from most of the other photography classes. The only way to get experience working with people is to get out there and do it, so I’m grateful for the opportunities this class presented.
Perhaps the most important impact this class has on students is a heightened appreciation for community and realization of the value in giving back through public service. Anna Butler, a student who worked for the housing community Eden Village as part of the class, shares what the experience meant to her, “This class is one I will remember for the rest of my life. I was able to get to know people and their stories. Eden Village really does have a mission, and their mission to end homelessness brought me hope. I would have never had this experience if not for this class.”
“My hope is that students learn to develop strategies for storytelling and sequencing that complement the student’s point of view with regard to the social issue they are exploring. In the classroom, this is done by exposing students to historical works, guest presentations and lectures, demonstrations, and critiques that culminate in the creation of a body of work that is meaningful and impactful,” Jimmie adds.
Taylor Ladd is a graduate assistant for the Department of Art + Design. She is working towards her master’s degree in writing at Missouri State University with professional interests in writing about art, culture, and food.