Alice Proujansky: Teaching Visual Literacy Through Photography

Tuesday, July 9, 2019
11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.

Aperture Foundation
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, N.Y.

Aperture Teaching Artist and author Alice Proujansky led a one-day workshop on visual literacy and discovering creative ways of interpreting photographs in a classroom setting. Participants included photo educators from all over (France to Ohio), aiming to incorporate visual literacy in their pedagogical practices. At the beginning of the workshop, Proujansky proposed three important questions, which blossomed into expansive resolutions throughout the workshop—“Why do we teach photo literacy?” “What are we missing in photo education?” and “How do we want to switch from what’s lacking to what we can do?” Proujansky encouraged participants to “interrogate systems, ask questions, and build a radical way of thinking.” Educators kept this in mind as they wrote answers to the three questions on Post-it notes. As they stuck the notes on the wall and observed together, they concluded the following themes from their answers: describing the framework of photo education, critique of past approaches to photo education, responses within their classrooms, and a strong emphasis of critical visual thinking for their students.


Participants fostered collaboration in groups, using Visual Thinking Strategies to discuss the work in the current exhibition at Aperture Gallery, where they decoded and encoded images as their students would. The educators immersed themselves in the student experience, encouraging connections and taking time to listen to each other in the group. They gained an understanding of their students’ involvement through different types of activities, from bringing a surface-level idea of a photograph into a deeper resonance through visual critique to photographing strangers.

Proujansky introduced Aperture’s On Sight curriculum and demonstrated ways participants can bring the curriculum into their classrooms. The Aperture On Sight curriculum’s design follows the equation form + content + context = meaning, encouraging visual literacy and photo storytelling for students. A champion of the On Sight curriculum and helping students think in expressive ways, Denise Wolff (Senior Editor at Aperture) introduced the Arrangement Game, which consists of connecting random photos to create a narrative. This activity was very effective; as one participant mentioned, “It is a great way to organize, but to also eliminate photos, which is very useful when creating photobooks.”

As the workshop came to a close and participants exchanged e-mails, the group mapped out what they learned and how they can use this knowledge not only in the classroom but also in the broader arts education community.

Alice Proujansky is a documentary photographer, teaching artist, and the lead curriculum writer for Aperture On Sight, Aperture’s photography and visual-literacy curriculum. Her photographs of women, labor, birth, and leftists have been published widely; and she has received support from the International Women’s Media Foundation, Magnum Foundation, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Women Photograph, and others. Her book, Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids, was published by Aperture in 2016.



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