I begin every class with a visual diary, instructing students to take note of every single two-dimensional image that they see around them in their everyday life.
From the moment they wake up turn off their alarm–or turn it on again to when they go brush their teeth to eating breakfast to walking out the door catching the bus catching the train getting in their car driving through streets through billboards ruffling in their glove compartment box to find something in there to seeing a postcard with an image on it that they previously stashed to going into class and opening a textbook or texting a friend and eventually their journey back home in whichever ways or routes or forms that may be.
After carrying this visual diary with them for a full day, writing down every single image they see, we review these seen images.
We reflect on the things they have seen or remembered to remember, whether there are patterns…. And we put that paper away.
It is not until the very end of the course when the students revisit these notes in order to understand what their ecology of images are and what it means to them.
Many times, students are able to see patterns of things that are interesting to them that they had not noticed in their noticing of images before. Or perhaps understand a deeper context.
What form of our lives is not touched by images? What form of our lives is not informed by photographs? Or shaped by photographs? Even lived as photographs?
Susan Sontag calls for “an ecology of images.” Perhaps there is some way that we can begin to do this.
Recently, a student of mine, Roberto Jose Stiglich Jimenez, concluded his visual diary by noting: “I think that the history of photography as well as the history of other visual arts, allows me to connect with current things, as I try to find their context and open up my mind to new perspectives. It helps me understand myself and my relationship with whatever or whomever surrounds me.”
Other students noted, after reviewing their visual diaries from the beginning of the course at the very end of the course: “Over this course, I learned a lot from the perspective of technical photography terms and definition plus how I interpret things,” “The history of photography class helps me see how many images are designed to influence what I think about and how I perceive it, whatever “it” is. ……In addition to realizing that many images are trying to influence my thinking, or even mislead me, I also know to look at images less passively. I now look more for the context of the image, and see myself as a more active participant in interpreting the image.” –student accounts
“If there can be a better way for the real world to include the one of images, it will require an ecology not only of real things but of images as well.”–Susan Sontag, On Photography
What is your visual diary?