Students experience social change through multimedia
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 21, 2012 10:09
Creating social change is an avowed goal of many Tufts students, and for some, photography — through the portrayal of narratives and conflicts — is an effective way of doing so. Such is the mission of the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice (PNDP).
This program, facilitated by the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), will begin its second full year this fall under the leadership of accomplished photojournalist Gary Knight and photographer Samuel James (LA ’09).
Knight founded the PNDP after teaching a class for the Experimental College called “The Concerned Photographer” in 2010 and working with the IGL’s EXPOSURE program. James became involved after working with Knight as a student.
According to Knight, the PNDP seeks to provide an interdisciplinary education in forming multimedia narratives, with the ultimate goal of creating change.
“It takes students from lots of different disciplines and introduces them to the practice of storytelling,” he said. “It takes them out into the world and immerses them in the lives of others. They study narrative nonfiction writing, audio, video and stills.”
This yearlong course consists of two separate seminars, one each in the fall and spring semesters. They are taught by James and Knight, respectively.
“The first semester you focus on technical work. You learn to use equipment with [James],” junior Nicola Pardy said. “The second semester you take on your own independent project under [Knight]’s mentorship.”
Independent projects include various storytelling methods. Pardy and Alisha Sett (LA ’12) both created long-form magazine pieces centered on different subjects.
“I chose the elderly community,” Pardy said. “Basically, for these projects, you need to be a fly on the wall, sit, observe and watch.”
Sett took a completely different approach.
“[My project] was about a Pakistani family that had immigrated to the U.S. and had recently taken over a grocery store in Teele Square,” Sett said. “I was documenting what that journey meant for them.”
Participant Matthew Rosen (LA ’12) focused his multimedia project on a veteran soldier and how he readjusted to civilian life after returning from Afghanistan.
“We hung out a lot, and we just became really good friends,” he said. “I tried to tell his story of what it’s like to come back from that sort of environment and re-adjust. [The project] includes interviews, photographs and videos from Afghanistan from [my subject’s] headcam.”
The PNDP experience concludes with a final summer workshop. This year, the group traveled to Burma for 10 days to carry out independent projects. Both Pardy and Sett agreed that the trip was a very meaningful and impressive experience.
“I ended up doing a series of portraits — I basically wanted to understand Burmese culture through a bottom-up approach,” Pardy said. “I photographed people in the streets, and asked them the same set of questions, and I took a portrait of them in their place of work.”
For the benefit of students involved, the Advisory Board that Knight assembled for the PNDP includes over 20 members ranging from accomplished writers, historians, journalists and photographers to experienced alumni. The members of the Board take on a mentorship role to the PNDP participants.
“The Advisory Board would come in different weeks and tell us about their general life experience,” Rosen said. “They would present their work. And if someone had specific questions, [Knight] would be really good at putting people in contact.”
Knight offers his students many opportunities for extra experience and internships in the area of multimedia journalism. Pardy cited her current internship at the blog Ground Truth with Knight and journalist Charles Sennott of the GlobalPost. According to PNDP participants, studying with accomplished professionals such as Knight and James had a large influence on their interests and work. Students connected with James in particular, as his interest in photography began and flourished at Tufts.