Photographing Neighborhoods as a Catalyst for Learning

As noted by Shari Tishman in a previous blog post called SLOW LOOKING, we asked students to capture a couple of photographs as they took a walk around their neighborhoods. Here is an excerpt from the instructions we gave them:

Paul pays a lot of attention to objects and what they reveal about the people he is writing about. For an example of this, please read his piece about the colorful, plastic footwear he noticed in Ethiopia:

As you walk in your neighborhood, take photos of things that catch your attention along the way. Imagine that you are taking the photos to share with a friend who does not know your neighborhood. Try to look at your neighborhood and the people who live and work there with fresh eyes.What do you see/feel/hear/taste/touch as you walk?

While I was putting together the slide show that accompanies this post, I noticed that students seemed to be looking at their neighborhoods in new, more careful ways and reflecting back on how their surroundings affect their everyday lives.

Students’ posts spoke not only to the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but also to the power of storytelling. They revisited past memories and created new ones by embarking on these walks and sharing their stories with each other.

For many students, taking the walk and engaging in a process of close-looking seemed to have helped develop an appreciation for their everyday surroundings. A post made by Maggie from Massachusetts provided me with a glimpse into her sentimental attachment to her neighborhood:

The two photos I chose both mean a lot to me. I took one picture of my home because all in all that’s one of the most essential parts of my life. My family has been doing construction and working on our house to make itwhat my mother calls a “home”. I spend a majority of my time there and it’s where I see all the people I love the most. Everything special or important to me in placed inside that home so there is no other part of the neighborhood that could possibly mean that much. The other picture is a picture of a fence in my neighborhood. A long time ago when I was about 8 years old me and one of my current best friends who lives far away painted flowers on that fence. At the time it didn’t really mean anything to us and we used nail polish so we thought it would come off in the rain the next day. For 7 years those flowers we painted stayed on that fence and now, it means so much to me. It almost represents that even though we live far away from each other and we can’t hang out everyday, we still manage to stay really close friends. Taking this walk really did get me thinking of the importance of ones surroundings. Before taking this walk I barely acknowledged my neighborhood and didn’t see the importance of every little detail about it. A neighborhood is something that I think a lot of people take advantage of and don’t enjoy what they have around them.



By observing students’ interactions, I noticed that they seemed to be intrigued by each other’s photographs and descriptions, and curious to learn more about one another’s surroundings. Through their responses to students’ posts, some also appeared to have taken an interest in reflecting back on their own experiences. Here is a post made by Sophia from India, followed by comments from other students and Sophia’s responses to them:

Hello, as i took a walk around my neighborhood I discovered several things. Its not that I hadn’t seen these sights before i had just neglected to truly notice and appreciate them.

On my way to school, I cross a street popularly known as ‘fashion street’. I have attached a picture of this street below. This street is famous for its lines of shops selling clothes where any price can be bargained and brought down to half or less. The shops do not sell branded clothes but are bought by majority of my cities population. Walkingby this street can truly take your breath away with the array of colors.

In my second picture I have shown two statues, one of a lion the other of an elephant. They have been painted with several colors and designs by the art students of a certain art college in my city. This was a project undertaken by the municipal co-operation in my city and the local government art college where several statues and sideways to make the city colorful.



Joe from Australia: That is really interesting, ‘fashion street’ must get really busy at time though if the clothes are that cheap.

Nick from Australia: I find it really interesting that you have an entire street devoted to fashion because were I live to go to the shops it takes ages.

Luigi from Australia: Sophia H, Fashion Street looks pretty busy is it always this busy? Australia Luigi B.

Alfred from Australia: The lion statue looks very detailed and is the market in the second picture a night time market and if not why are there all of the lights hanging there.

Tamerslain from India: The market in the picture is pretty much an 16 hour market. From around 9 in the morning to even 1 or 2 at night. It’s pretty much this busy all the time but the density of the crowd increases drastically during the weekends. It’s actually longer than your usual street and the variety of clothing available is greater than what you’d get at most malls around the world!

Sophia: It makes life for many much easier and serves as a great experience for tourists as well. Tamerslain is right about the timings, it is not known to be a night market per say but it does go on till quite late. The lights serve their purpose at that time.

Cinderella from Canada: Sophia, To be honest, I quite enjoy shopping so your photo of ‘fashion street’ is very interesting to me. It seems like a very lively place with a wide range of merchandise unique from the clothes I find here in Canada.

Raphael from Canada: I also enjoyed reading about your “fashion street” photo because I recently traveled to Udaipur, Rajasthan and I got to experience what street shopping in India is like. Like you mentioned, bargaining is a large part! During my visit to India I bought many pairs of colourful pants and skirts and some of my friends bought saris! Compared to shopping in Vancouver, Canada, i found the prices in India to be very inexpensive!

Jasmine from Canada: Hi Sophia! The “fashion street” looks really busy, is it always like that?

Sophia: Hi Cinderella, its quite true that the clothes India are extremely colorful, and here in India we find a mix of western culture and age old Indian traditions which leads to a exclusive and special kind of fashion.

Hi Raphael, well, i hope you enjoyed Udaipur, but it may interest you to know that if you travel a few miles north or a few miles south of Udaipur, you will completely different cultures, colors and traditions. It sometimes makes me wonder if a country like India itself can have thousands of different yet slightly similar cultures, how many different cultures this entire world must have! Luckily the prices are low all over the country despite the range of cultures.

Hi Cinderella! Yes fashion street tends to be busy if not busier until the last of the shops shut down.

JJ from Massachusetts: that shopping street is much like a street in New York City i recently visited called ‘Canal St” very similar! they both sell stuff on the sides of roads!!!

Some students seemed to have taken not only a closer look into their own surroundings, but also a step back to reflect on how their surroundings fit into a bigger picture. Kylie from Massachusetts appeared to have thought about how this walk has helped her realize that every neighborhood is different and shapes our world. Here is a section of Kylie’s post:

Taking the walk made me think about just how big the world is and how little my own neighborhood is. I walk around my neighborhood a lot, or at least certain parts of it, because I have to get my brother from school some days and I like to be outside. I have always imagined my neighborhood really big but this prompt got me thinking about how big my neighborhood actually is. There are so many other kids out there that each have their own neighborhoods, which helps put in perspective how big the world actually is. It is also crazy to think that no two neighborhoods are the same because different people live in each one and I believe one of the things that makes a neighborhood is the people that live there.

Below is a slide show of neighborhood photographs taken by students in our online learning community. The slide show also contains photographs from the Internet that students included in their posts to describe their neighborhoods. We would welcome any comments about the photographs and/or our overall project.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One comment

  1. […] I adapted some of the Project Zero activities for my students. For example, we created maps of our neighborhoods and tried “slow photo journalism” (see posts SLOW LOOKING and PHOTOGRAPHING NEIGHBORHOODS AS A CATALYST FOR LEARNING). […]

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