#YOURTURN: A Documentary Project

posted on Sep 11, 2019

One of the first things we learn as children is how to take a turn. This past school year, I launched a collaborative project called #YOURTURN. This is a photo-based project about interaction, engagement, conversation, and collaboration. When our stories are seen and heard, we are given the mechanism through which to discover our common bonds.

Vince and Vivian.

#YOURTURN used past historical ideas about photography as a touchstone for a unique and current way of exhibiting social documentary photography by me, teenage students from different Los Angeles communities (Bel Air and Boyle Heights), and artist-educators.

The impetus behind most of my personal and classroom projects has always been informed by my upbringing; I was raised on the U.S./ Mexico border. An essential duality comes almost as a given when one grows up Mexican-American. It’s a border within.

Crossing Borders
For the purposes of #YOURTURN: A Documentary Project, I had my students use the medium of photography to cross the external physical borders in the city of L.A. and identify the borders created within themselves. The project #MYTURN used student participants from the Harvard-Westlake school in Bel Air and the Humanities Academy of Art & Technology at Esteban Torres High School in Boyle Heights. Every assignment, workshop, and subsequent image will be tied to the ideals and aims of what is “place” and what is documentary photography.

Documentary Photography Workshops
#YOURTURN held photography workshops in my classroom at Harvard Westlake school in West L.A. and Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology at Esteban Torres High School in East L.A. Each workshop investigated and developed visual literacy, mind mapping, the use of photographs as symbols and metaphors, and photobased documentary projects that investigate social issues in each student’s neighborhood.

Drew Roman.
GIRLS, an online book project.
Vince and Vivian.

I worked with photojournalist and Aperture Foundation educator Alice Pourjansky (alice@aperturefnd) and L.A. public school educator Adriana Yugovich to facilitate documentary photo workshops between photo students at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology and my photography students in Westside.

Early in the school year, Alice assisted students in various documentary techniques. Throughout the remaining school year, I mentored my students in developing their ideas for their individual documentary projects. These projects were eventually created into self-published, online books.

Cameras and Shooting Prompts
Following the workshops, students were provided with point-and-shoot film cameras from the 90s and a brochure with five shooting prompts that revolved around concepts of documentary photography. My students were encouraged to embrace the beautiful visual surprises, such as vignettes and light leaks, produced by these point-and-shoot cameras.

The cameras and film were intended to maintain a visual-based dialogue between the two schools once the workshops were over. This was achieved by students responding to each other’s imagery in the form of double exposures, which were posted on Instagram and given the hashtag #YOURTURN.

The final element to #YOURTURN will morph into an online space. Our stories will introduce a curated online space for sharing sequences of images that reflect on the people and places of Los Angeles. It’s here where we will cross virtual borders and share the things that make our communities meaningful. This online space will be opened up to communities across L.A. Together, we will provide a template for the people of Greater L.A. to contribute to the continuing story of Steichen’s famous exhibition, The Family of Man.

This project is inspired by the belief that all students deserve a firstrate education. I believe in the power of photography and art to act as an inspiring leveraging tool that transforms students because I witness it firsthand all the time. It affirms who they are. Everybody loves taking pictures, and this media-driven generation loves it even more.

Joe Medina is a visual arts teacher at Harvard Westlake in Los Angeles, California.

Connecting: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to make art.

A Range of Vision: on-sight-range-of-vision/

View this article in the digital edition.