WRD 286: Writing with Photographs (Autumn 2017)

Course Description

In this course, we will explore how writers can use photographs and photography in their writing process and in their texts. We will study literary texts that model a range of ways that photographs and language can be combined, learning techniques and approaches from these examples. The primary work of the course is writing (with, of course, photographs!): you will complete two substantial photoessay projects, one that asks you to engage with photographs from your personal archives and public collections, and another that asks you to shoot your own photographs and write accompanying text. No prior experience with photography is necessary, though you must have access to a camera or camera phone.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Create expressive and persuasive photoessays that combine writing and photographs.
  • Assess different techniques for combining writing and photographs, and select the most appropriate techniques, given a particular expressive or persuasive aim.
  • Use writing to encounter and reflect on your own and others’ photographs.
  • Apply basic photography techniques to intentionally shoot and edit photographs.
  • Analyze, in well-written prose, the form and content of published texts that combine writing and photographs.


Carroll, H. (2015). Read this if you want to take great photographs of people. London: Laurence King.

Fjellestad, D. (2015). Nesting – braiding – weaving: Photographic interventions in three contemporary American novels. In Rippl, G., Ed., Handbook of intermediality: Literature – image – sound – music (pp. 166-191). Berlin: De Greuner.

Foster, J. (2011). Shooting story. In Storytellers: A photographer’s guide to developing themes and creating stories with pictures (pp. 57-99). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Freeman, M. (2012). Excerpts from The photographer’s story: The art of visual narrative. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Kuhn, A. (2002). A meeting of two queens. In Family secrets: Acts of memory and imagination (pp. 70-99). New York: Verso.

Mann, S. (2015). Hold still: A memoir with photographs. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Schriver, K. A. (1997). The interplay of words and pictures. In Dynamics in document design: creating text for readers (pp. 407-441). New York: Wiley Computer Pub.


  1. Memory Photoessay: This project asks you to create a photoessay informed by the techniques of Mann’s Hold still and Kuhn’s “A meeting of two queens.” The broad task of this photoessay is to explore a memory from your own past, which has been documented by a photograph or photographs, and to connect this personal memory to a larger cultural theme or narrative using photographs from public archives. Your photoessay should include at least 2500 words and between 5-10 photographs. The final project will be preceded by a substantial proposal, worth 35% of the project grade.
  2. Documentary Photoessay: You will create a documentary photoessay, informed by the techniques of the published photodocumentarians whose work we will study in class. The topic of the photoessay is your choice, though it must document an individual or cultural group and must feature photographs of both people and their environment. The essay will be composed with Medium or page-layout software, and should include approximately 2500 words and at least twenty original photographs. The final project will be preceded by a substantial proposal, worth 35% of the project grade.
  3. Book Review, Book of Choice: You will read a book from among a list provided (all are notable for their combination of writing and photographs); after discussing the book with a partner, you will collaboratively compose an analysis of it on Medium, which includes visual examples from the text. The audience for your review is writers who want to learn new techniques for combining text and photographs; your review should address questions such as how the text was produced, what makes it distinctive, how the writing and photographs work together, and how the book was received by you, by readers, and by critics. The set of reviews produced by the class will provide us with a broad survey of possible approaches to writing with photographs.