4.A21 | Fall 2006 | Undergraduate

Stories Without Words: Photographing the First Year


Five small assignments are due in the class, based around three major themes: light, detail, and poetics.

1 Lecture - Introduction: 9/11 / Camera, Light (PDF)
2 Image Viewing - Light Assignment (PDF)
3 Image Viewing - Detail Assignment / Web Design (PDF)
4 Museum Visit - HMNH, Dinner in Harvard Square
5 In-class Work on Web Site Building (PDF)
6 Review of Assignment 3 - Web Sites / Themes
7 Optional Class Meeting Due to Midterm Exams (PDF)
8 Image Viewing - Poetics Assignment, Themes
9 Walking Tour of Campus Art and Architecture
10 Working Session in Lab - Individual Review (PDF)
12 Working Session in Lab - Pre-Review
13 Final Review

Major Assignment: Light

Start taking photographs as you go about your normal routine on campus. For this first exercise, the main subject of each photo should be “light” - don’t worry about trying to tell a story yet, simply try to capture brilliant images. Try to capture images that show how the light affects and defines the setting. Interesting light patterns, interesting colors, the shapes and reflections and spaces made by light as it moves throughout the day: all of this should be considered. Make an effort to take photographs at many different times during the day and night to explore the differences present there.

As a side note, use this first exercise to get to know your camera well. Explore the different settings of aperture, shutter speed, and white balance, if you can. See how the camera works in different light conditions, both with and without the flash. Work on being selective with the focus of your camera. Since digital film is free, the easiest way to learn your camera is to take the same image with many settings, making notes as to which you used. Then when you view them on your computer, you can see how the settings affect the final image. If you find yourself lacking for inspiration, see the reading list for books in MIT’s Rotch Library that might inspire you. Feel free to email me or the list if you have questions, comments, or things to share.

Over the course of the next week, you should take enough images (30-50) that you can bring to class a set of 10 that really demonstrate some interesting lighting. You can bring these on your camera (provided you bring the USB cable to connect it to the lab computer), on the memory card (simply note which ten images you’d like to show), or you can mount them to your MIT Server locker (we’ll get into that in more detail later if it’s unfamiliar now).

Major Assignment: Detail

Significant details are clues as to the character of a place. They are things that tell stories, stories that go beyond what is immediately visible. Significant details are often overlooked on a day to day basis: they’re taken for granted. The word significant is the key: these aren’t necessarily obvious, but things that reveal more about the place than is superficially known. We’ll review several examples of this in class, since I realize the description is vague.

In photographing these details, pay careful attention to issues of focus and framing. Try to focus on the detail in question, and blur the rest. Try the opposite. Frame the detail in the center of the photo, and then on the edge. Which works better? Again, play with your camera to learn how it functions. And of course use what you learned about lighting to create the best images you can.

Over the course of the next week, take images of significant detail that you find in your everyday environment. Take enough so that you have a variety to choose from. Then, following the basic HTML® format outlined in class, create a Web page of the best 10 images and upload both the page and the images to your MIT Server www locker. We’ll review these in class next week. (You can also upload images of light if you’d like, so you have both assignments on one page.)

Major Assignment: Poetics

Poetry has been well defined as “the measured language of emotion.” As with detail, many meanings can be seen in every photograph. In this case, instead of looking for significant details, you’ll look instead for the expressive emotions that define everyday situations. But much like detail, poetics provides a depth of information in an image that simple snapshots don’t convey. The depth of expression is the key. Trying to convey in images the feelings that MIT inspires in you should be the goal here, the full range of emotion being explored. Again, this is vague, but we’ll look at samples (including some of the images you’ve already taken) to show the way.

Make sure to incorporate everything that you’ve learned about light, detail, and photographic technique, to make sure that nothing technical interrupts the power of the image. Take multiple exposures in each instance using different settings to ensure that you capture the image you’re after.

Ten or so images should then be loaded onto your Web site in time for our review session. It’s imperative that at least a basic HTML® page with links to the three galleries be in place by the next review, since there’s very little time left after that before the final class presentation. (And you should of course also add images to both the light and detail galleries as you find them.) Please feel free to email me with HTML® questions or concerns.

Major Assignment: Final Assignment

The final assignment will be to create a Web gallery or galleries of images that tell one or more stories culled from your personal experiences at MIT. Through consultation and individual critiques with the instructor and TA, these stories will be fleshed out and the technical details of the Web site will be resolved. The final presentation will involve showing and discussing these stories with a panel of guests invited to the last class.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Image Gallery
Media Assignments