Artt, Economics, Statistics, Photography, Humanities, and Culture: all interesting and significant topics to discuss in your Social Studies class or Art class but how to engage elements of all of these topics in one interesting unit.
I came across this web site because our director at ISY, Tom Tunny has received an e-mail from Jane Larsen asking teachers to see if it was possible to participate in this unique project.
The project was conceived by Carolyn Jones a NY photographer. She is interested in making a movie and a book on 100 portraits of people that accurately, in terms of demographics, represent the whole world. The 100 people project states: We’re looking for 100 people who accurately represent the other 6.2 billion of us. We want to find them by being introduced to exceptional people in your community.
How to be introduced to 6.2 billion people? Get international schools and students involved. This is where we come in. By reading the statistics of what was published on the 100PeopleFoundation.org web site the world suddenly looks different than your student body or community. This list is what really got me interested in the project. I read the e-mail to my students - what would 100 people would look like in terms of housing, gender, race, age, religion, education and living conditions I asked?
I let them guess how many out of 100 would have a college education. 30, 14, 6, they responded. One student said “Maybe 1”. One! How many would be Buddhist? Living in Myanmar where Buddhism is all around us, we might forget: again 25 out of 100, 14 ….according to 100 people foundation just 6. How many are non white? How many live in substandard housing? How many are children how many adults? Etc. It was really interesting to see the responses.
Later after thinking of a project idea, I decided to ask students to take portraits of one person from Myanmar who would represent several of these statistics. Since I teach art this was perfect for working more in depth with photography – specifically portraiture. I also asked two English teachers Terry Just who teaches 7th Grade, and Katrina Lehman who teaches High School to liaison with me and help with a descriptive writing component. They were both excited about the idea. Kathrina thought this would integrate nicely into teaching how to write a descriptive paragraph to describe this person they photographed. The 100 people foundation wants to see the person you think exemplifies a statistic but they also want to know the personal side. Why did you choose this person, this child, the musician, this mother, this teacher, this broom seller, this shopkeeper, this gardener, this maid, this business owner etc. That is where the descriptive writing element comes in handy since the students personal feelings can come into play. To simplify for the Middle school students I asked them to photograph and write about someone they admire in some way. I also asked all students to only choose a person from our host country, so they might have to venture out in the community and talk to people they otherwise wouldn’t talk to.
I showed the web site in class and had kids write the statistical list in their sketchbooks. We talked about where the numbers came from. We talked about why certain statistics were left out. We talked about the difference between malnutrition and undernourished. We watched the movie trailer on the 100 people foundation we site and brainstormed on who exactly to photograph. We talked about people in our small ISY community and in our neighborhood. I asked students who they would photograph. They had many great ideas. In general I found the middle school students stayed close to home and choose Myanmar people they had contact with: a driver, a maid, a housekeeper. But High school students ventured in to the community more to choose from a wide and interesting range of occupations and kinds of people young and old. As the bell rang I reminded them only one out of 100 would have a college education. I kept thinking of that number throughout the day, feeling touched by its loneliness – only ‘1 out of 100’.
I also had students take notes on what good photographs were and I showed samples of good portraits of people from my photo slides and they took notes on what good photographs were and why. In Middle school we worked in groups and looked at slides together and in High School I had put photograph on their tables and had them ask questions about the photographs such as what makes and good photograph, why is one better than another, is light and texture important? is seeing the persons face important? What kind of composition makes a good photograph? Etc. Then I took the best questions from their sketchbooks and had them answer then in mixed groups looking at pictures of people. I also talked about history and culture and what really ‘shows’ the time period or the place in portraiture. We talked about why some art or some photographs are timeless - what does this mean? I think if you were studying a specific time period in a history class you could integrated this assignment in by asking students to show in their contemporary photograph certain aspects of people at the time period you are studying that are still common today in people.
We had the Burmese translate simple identification questions for the person who was asked to be photographed such as: age, address, religion etc. They then wrote this information on the back of their final work.
I handed out an assignment sheet and had the proof due in two weeks time. I also said digital or black and white or color print was fine. We talked again about advantages or disadvantages of all. At proof time we had a mini critique of the work and talked about what could be done to improve the photos. For 7th grade I concentrated on composition since as beginners some students photographed people with legs chopped off or with dark faces. So it was interesting to see the proofs. Then the pieces were due for the final critique mounted and labeled two days before our winter Art and Music show. It was so exciting to see the work come in.
We had an excellent art show highlighting the work done for Carolyn Jones and the 100 people project. We sent our submissions in to NY just after we hung them in the art show. Photograph name of artist (student), name of person, age religion, city, country. Then the written statement on why the student admired this person. Katrina our English teacher also had her students do this project and her format was one page with the photo as a small thumbnail top center. I required 8 by 10. At the show parents, community members, and local artists commented on what an interesting idea 100 people project was.