By Julie Keefe—I’ve been fortunate the last three years to work with a talented group of forward-thinking people at the Portland Art Museum who created and developed Object Stories from the Middle, a wonderful platform that allowed teaching artists and docents to directly engage with hundreds of students and educators in the tri-county region and help them use the art making process to foster meaning and connection between personal objects and those found in the art museum.
As a photographer and a teaching artist I am always interested in new ways to engage individuals in storytelling and art making.
In my work with the middle school students I created an opportunity for them to develop the story of their object by using photography and developing a six-word story that enhanced the photographs they created. Using a series of prompts relating to perspectives, the docents and I helped the students create photographs that told the story of their object. We asked each student to look at the big picture as if from the bird’s eye view, and consider:
- How can you make a photograph of your object that tells it’s story?
- Has it been on a journey?
- What texture or setting would enhance that?
One of my favorite images from this prompt came from a young woman who placed her ice skates at the edge of a clear puddle, photographing them to not only show their reflection, but in the process, making the puddle look like ice.
The students worked in partner pairs and not only shared digital cameras to make their images, but collaborated to photograph each other with their objects, adding meaning from gesture and expression, perhaps from the dog’s eye view as one student was inspired to hold his screaming red Fender electric guitar aloft and his partner knelt to photograph him—making his partner look like a rock star in the process.
After the photographs were printed and returned to them, the students were able to look at their work closely, from the snake’s eye view, noticing the details of their objects that were enhanced by the photograph and using the photographs as inspiration for the last portion of their process; writing the six-word story that would add the final layer of meaning to their work. The words often surprised us by adding mystery—we wanted to know more about the toy caught in the tree, as was the case in a young man’s story of a tiger he received as a prize in a kid’s meal.
Three photographs that told a journey of a playful and then somber tiger making its way to his grandfather’s deathbed and offering his grandfather comfort as he passed. His six-word story, “It’s Not Just a Simple Toy.”
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You can download a copy of this complete lesson plan here.