WRD 286: Writing With Photographs (Spring 2021)

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 complete two substantial photoessay projects, one that asks you to explore personal and public memories through archival photographs, the other a documentary photoessay, for which you will shoot your own photographs and write accompanying text. To prepare to do this work, we will study texts that both model and theorize how to combine these two modes, as well as try a range of exercises to develop your creative range and technical skill. 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


Cabrera, C.F. & Soth, A.  (2020). The parameters of our cage. MACK Books.

Carroll, H. (2014). Read this if you want to take great photographs. London: Laurence King.

Carroll, H. (2016). Use this if you want to take great photographs: A photo journal. 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 (35% of grade): In this project, you will explore memories from your own past and connect these personal memories to a broader cultural theme using both personal and public photographs. Your photoessay should include 1600-2000 words and between 4-10 photographs. The final project will be preceded by a substantial proposal, worth 30% of the project grade.
  2. Documentary Photoessay (30% of grade): The documentary photoessay project challenges you to document an individual or cultural group of your choice through photos you shoot and text you write. The essay will be composed on Medium and include approximately 1600–2000 words and at least twenty original photographs. The final project will be preceded by a substantial proposal, worth 30% of the project grade.
  3. Creative Exercises & Reflective Essay (25% of grade): Using the creative prompts from Carroll’s Use this book if you want to take great photographs and Cabrera and Soth’s The parameters of our cage, you will complete a series of creative exercises focused on shooting and writing about photographs. We will share and discuss what we produce from these exercises, and you will submit an approximately 1200-word reflective essay that distills 3-4 discoveries that you made about photography techniques, writing with photographs, and your creative process as a result of completing the exercises.  
  4. Participation & Peer Review (10% of grade): Participation includes engagement with in-class exercises, compliance with draft deadlines, helpfulness during peer review, satisfactory completion of assigned D2L posts, and contribution to class discussions.