WRD 286: Writing with Photographs (Spring 2016)

Course Description

In this course, we will explore how writers can use photographs and photography in their writing process and in their texts. You will write to engage with photographs from your personal archives and from public collections, as well as shoot your own photographs and write accompanying text. The course also introduces autobiographical, theoretical, and documentary texts that model how photographs and language can work together. In our two major projects, you will apply the techniques and concepts of these examples to create your own photoessays. 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 better prepared 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.
  • Analyze, in well-written prose, the form and content of published texts that combine writing and photographs.


Barthes, R. (1980). Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. New York: Hill & Wang.

Cep, C. (2014, February 26). A thousand words: Writing from photographs. New Yorker. Available: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-thousand-words-writing-from-photographs

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.

McCloud, S. (1994). Show and tell. In Understanding comics: The invisible art (pp. 138-61). NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.

McWade, J. (2010). Voice-over captions. In Before and after: How to design cool stuff (pp. 102-112). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit.

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. Portfolio of Short Responses & Polished Response: During the first half of the course, you will complete a series of informal written responses that engage with and respond to our course readings and to photographs. These responses are aligned with the major projects in the course: each will help you to refine ideas or generate content for your photoessay projects. You will extend and revise one response into a polished 800-1000-word paper.
  2. 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 topic of this photoessay is personal and public memory: you will explore an aspect of or incident from your own past, which has been documented by a photograph or photographs, and connect this personal memory to a larger cultural theme or narrative. Your photoessay should use at least 1700 words and between 3-10 photographs, selected from both your personal archives and online public archives.
  3. 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. It may be composed with Exposure or Lucidpress, and its composition should reflect strategic choices about writing with photographs.
  4. Final Reflection: In a polished reflection of approximately 1000 words, you will identify and describe the key insights that you have learned this quarter about writing with photographs. Your insights should be grounded in both the published texts we have studied and in reflection on your own experiences making photoessays.