Capstone Project

On Behalf of Others Project


Contents of the Project

  1. A report on three of the assigned documentary workers
  2. An analysis of how Dorothy Lange use selection and deflection process to derive at her final image ” Migrant Mother” to represent the critical issues in the era of the Great Depression
  3. An interpretation of James Agee’s remark on doing work on behalf of others. State whether you agree or disagree with the statement and why. How does Dorothy Lange’s documentary support or refute Agee’s view?
  4. A Micro Report  on doing work on behalf of others ( your own journalistic work), which includes interview questions, interviews and a final report after going through the selection and deflection process.( needs visuals)
  5. Read one of the articles from the list by one of the journalists and explain whether the author’s views support or oppose  “doing documentary work on behalf of others”.
  6. Write an argument paper on behalf of others using evidence from the article, your research, field work, Lange’s or Agee’s work or JR’s, etc.

Day 1

L.O. Students will become aware of the elements in the final Capstone project-On Behalf of Others.

Aim: How do we deliberately “shape” events?


Your Tasks today-

  1. Work in pairs (TAPPS): Recall an occasion when you gave an account of an event in which you deliberately “shaped” events or how other people appeared in order to make a point. (Alternatively, you  might recall a time when you overheard an account of yourself or your actions that another speaker “shaped.”) •
  2. Reflect on what the “ground rules” are when you talk about other people. Define where “a good story” oversteps the line and becomes hurtful, distorting, or disrespectful. •
  3. Small groups present your proposed “ground rules.”

• If individuals disagree, you can (respectfully) challenge another group’s ground rules.

•  consider situations where these decisions matter (in your own lives, and in the larger world, for instance, in news accounts, how people are photographed, etc.)

  • Background information on argument –A position on an important issue, backed up by evidence and reasoning-work in pairs to discuss the following: There are two kinds of argument:
    –A noisy disagreement with two (or more) sides stubbornly holding on to their original positions.
  • —An exchange on an important issue, where each speaker/writer uses evidence and reasoning to convince the other to consider a different point of view, choice, or action. What happens in these two different kinds of exchanges:
  • What strategies do people use in the second case? If you can get your way in the first kind of argument, why does the second kind of argument matter (e.g., in court cases, in making significant choices for government, etc.)? For example: In an argument-based essay writers not only give information but they also present an argument with the PROS (supporting claims and evidence) and CONS (opposing claims and evidence) for an issue. Writers need to take a clear stand and use clear language and well-chosen evidence that will convince people who are uncertain or who have a different point of view on the issue.

Homework: Do research on three of the writers and photographers below. Write a brief resport introducing the kind of documentary work each writer or photographer ha done.

  • Stephen Crane
  • George Orwell
  • James Natchwey
  • Jonathan Kozol
  • Carolyn Forché
  • James Agee
  • Oscar Smith
  • Philip Gourevitch
  • Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine
  • Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange

Day 2

Teaching Point-

In an argument-based essay writers not only give information but they also present an argument with the PROS (supporting claims and evidence) and CONS (opposing claims and evidence) for an issue. Writers need to take a clear stand and use clear language and well-chosen evidence that will convince people who are uncertain or who have a different point of view on the issue.

Do Now:

Developing shared background knowledge:

  1. Pick one writer and photographer who has done great documentary work from the list provided.
  2. Do research on one writer and write a report on how his or her documentary work has made an impact on the society s/he lived in.
  3. Do research on one photographer and write a report on how his or her documentary work has made an impact on the society s/he lived in. There is a long and dignified tradition of documentary work in which writers, photographers, filmmakers, and journalists set out to create records or accounts of events, people, and places that might otherwise go unnoticed or misunderstood. These records are meant to raise questions and to function as calls to action. Writers who work in this tradition include:
  • Stephen Crane
  • George Orwell
  • James Natchwey
  • Jonathan Kozol
  • Carolyn Forché
  • James Agee
  • Arthur Rothstein
  • Philip Gourevitch

Photographers and filmmakers have contributed to this tradition as well. In New York at the turn of the century, photographers like Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine exposed how poor families and their children were crowded into tenements. Throughout the depression, photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange made vivid images of the lives of the people who were living under harsh and difficult conditions. A relatively recent example of filmmakers who work in this tradition are the records – made by both amateurs and professional (e.g. Spike Lee) – who captured the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on the lives of ordinary people living in the lower Ninth Ward.

In your report, include the following-

  1. What kind of documentary work s/he has done?
  2. What situation prompted him/her to do the documentary work?
  3. What kind of impact has his/her documentary work had on the society s/he lived in?
  4. Has his/her documentary work caused the society to take actions ?

Your Task: Selection and Deflection in Documentary Work

• Look at the photo essay and listen to the audio for, “Joshua Febres: The Uncertain Gang Member,”one of the entries on the New York Times’ series “One in 8 Million.”…/1-in-8-million/index.html

Here is the photo essay that illustrates the photo journalistic work

1 in a 8 Millions collection

• Discuss how the contributing photographer and journalist told this story in a way that was respectful of the young man, his family, and community. In other words:

Listen carefully to the audio portion of the report. (It may take listening twice.) Take notes on what was said and how it was said. What choices did the journalists make about what they included and how they discussed what they saw and heard?

o Look closely at the images that accompany the audio. How are those images selected, framed, and composed? What is the effect of the choices that the photographer(s) made?

o What are the consequences of these choices for how we see the young man at the center of the piece?

• Introduce the ideas of selection and deflection as major creative and ethical issues that authors and image-makers face when doing documentary work on behalf of others.

o Selection: What an author (photographer, filmmaker) chooses to draw a reader’s/viewer’s attention to.

o Deflection: What an author (photographer, filmmaker)chooses to push into the background, downplay, or leave out entirely.

•  apply these terms to what you saw
and heard in “The Uncertain Gang Member.”

Day 3

L.O. Students will analyze the photo documentary to show their understanding what elements have been emphasized or minimalized or even omitted.

Aim: How do artists use  Selection and Deflection process  in creating their documentary work ?

Do Now:

  • Look at the photo essay and listen to the audio for, “Joshua Febres: The Uncertain Gang Member,”one of the entries on the New York Times’ series “One in 8 Million.”
  • share what you observed with the class as a
    whole. Together the class can set some goals for our upcoming discussions.
    This investment in nurturing discussion can pay off given the role that oral exchanges can play in the development of argument skills, particularly our ability to

    1. Sustain an argument across numerous points
    2. Understand how to make sense of claims and counterclaim
    3. Develop a balanced and objective approach to examining
      evidence from a variety of sources (or speakers)

Mini Lesson

Among the most famous examples of
documentary work on behalf of others are the photos that Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and others took during the Great Depression, when they were employed by the Farm Security
Administration to document the effects of that economic upheaval on the lives of ordinary people. A central image in that effort is Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photos – a suite of images taken of a single woman and children in a desolate landscape.

Your Task:

Extracting and analyzing relevant information from“Migrant Mother” photos.

  1. Take a few minutes to review those images with the class. They can be found at:
    • Work in pairs or trios. Spend at least ten minutes looking closely at the sequence of images that led up to the final image, as well as that final image.
  2. Infer what was selected and what was deflected from earlier photos, when making the final photo.
  3. Repond to the following questions:
    • What details recur (were selected) across all the photos?
    • What does Lange select or highlight in her final photo that is different from earlier images?
    • What gets left out (deflected) in the final photograph?
    • What message do you think Lange was trying to send with her choices about what to select and deflect?

Exit Slip: How do the selection and deflection process help the artists reveal their intentions or purposes?


Write a page response to the final question above. The photograph is a text and that this is a text-based question that calls for you to state a clear position and cite specific evidence to support that position. You can use the evidence from either Dorothy Lange’s work or the photo story ( one in a million from NYTIME.COM).


Day 4

L.O. Students will be able to see the problems and challenges when doing documentary work on behalf of others by examining a specific documentary work.

Aim: What kind of problems and challenges could a documentary work pose?


Do Now:

•Discuss our homework (your answers to the question.)

•You have an opportunity to revise your positions and their papers based on what they hear from their peers.

Teaching Point

People who undertake documentary work “on behalf of others” are committed to making their audiences see what they might otherwise have ignored or missed about other people’s lives. On the surface, this mission seems above reproach, but a closer look reveals many problems and challenges. The work has artistic, intellectual, and ethical dimensions.

• Take a few minutes to share the following information about one of Lange’s contemporaries, James Agee and his work that resulted in the book,

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

In 1936 during what is known as the Great Depression, writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans accepted an assignment to write an article for Fortune magazine in which they would report on the conditions of poor sharecropper families living in the Southern regions of the United States. Agee and Evans went to Alabama that summer and began interviewing, writing, and taking pictures of poor families who worked on small farms. Agee became so involved with the people and so upset by what he witnessed that they never wrote the article. He grew increasingly horrified by what he saw as a despicable arrangement: that he, a man with education and opportunities, would be hired and paid to profit by the suffering of men, women, and children who would never have his chances. Agee and Evans quit their assignment and, instead, published their work in the long and troubled book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a text that the critic Lionel Trilling has called “the most realistic and the most important moral effort of our American generation.”

Agee was painfully aware of the challenges built into documentary work, especially when it addresses the lives of people who may not have the means or the opportunity to speak or write for themselves. Out of this concern he wrote the following as the second paragraph in the opening to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

“It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and for profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage, and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings.”

Your Task:

  • develop a one-sentence summary of what Agee is saying.
  • Return to Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” images. As a class read the following web page, which describes the complicated history of that image and the distress that it caused the woman who had agreed to have her photo taken.
  • her.html
  • Write four paragraphs that focus on the following
  1. Interpret James Agee’s attitude toward this type of journalism that is meant to expose a group of people who are “naked, helpless, ignorant, undefended and damaged” and parade them in front of another group of people.
  2. Describe Dorothea Lang’s photographs of “Migrant Mother”

a. Provide the historical background to the image

b. Discuss what the image made visible to people who did not experience the uprooting and suffering that migrants did

c. Discuss at least two ethical questions surrounding the image based on your reading of the article about the photograph.

3. Comment on the Migrant Mother image from James Agee’s view: what would he consider the iconic photo?

4.  Conclude with a reflection that will make your reader think about the complex nature of doing documentary work on behalf of “others.”


Day 5

L.O. Students will be prepared to start their own documentary work by viewing one created by JR.

Aim: What kind of documentary work can we do? How should it be done?


Teaching Point

We’ll be undertaking their own documentary projects. To prepare you for that work, over the next few days you will have a chance to look closely at the work of other documentarians.

  • You will view a short video about the artist JR—an artist who works “on behalf of others.” JR does massive public art installations all over the world in which he posts photographs of regular people on places such as the walls of buildings, rooftops, and the sides of bridges and trains. In this short video, JR talks about his work and the aspirations that inspire it.
  • I’ll play the video two times. Watch and listen the first time through. Then, iI’ll play the video a second time. This time, mark places in the transcription in which you see evidence or information that helps you think about these questions:

o Why does JR paste large photographs of people up on walls, on stairways, on the sides and tops of trains?

o How does he work and why?

o Why does he work in these places?

o What does he focus upon (select)? What does he leave out (deflect)? After the second viewing, ask students to turn to a partner and share their thoughts about the questions. During this sharing time, insist that students identify specific moments in the video /  transcript where JR says things that help them think about the questions. Give partners 3-4 minutes to share and make notes, then ask them to write individual quick writes (2-3 sentences for each question) that distill their thinking.

Your Task

  1. Discuss the questions.
  2.  Conducting relevant research and here are the steps-
    1. Write down a short description of my intentions for the micro-report
    2. brainstorm a list of possible topics, places, or people they could report on.  Use this brainstorming session as an opportunity to reiterate the “working on behalf of others” spirit of reporting in this tradition. The aim is to provide an insight, to select and assemble information to send a message, or to provide a close observation to make a point.
    3. Schedule an interview with X
    4. Draft a set of interview questions
    5. Write descriptive notes about X place in my notebook
    6. Visit X place and record overheard dialogue that I might use in my report
    7. Write a rough draft
    8. Get someone to read and give feedback on my rough draft

Use the draft to help you complete  the following “On Behalf of Others” assignment in which you take on the role of the documentary writer and reflect on the challenges of this kind of work.

On Behalf of Others: A Micro-report ( mini documentary)

Please write a “micro-report” (500 words) about an event you witnessed place or person you know that needs to be brought to light or told about. During this work, try out several of the techniques you observed in one (or more) of the models you studied in the previous work. In addition, please attach to your report a one-page commentary or “Author’s Statement” where you answer the following questions:

• What was the message you were trying to create about the event or person you observed?

• What “selection” and “deflection” choices did you make in your efforts to convey this message?

• How was your work similar to the models?

• Did you invent other techniques that you think were effective?

• What did this experience teach you about the challenges of doing this kind of work?


Day 6

Independent reading and research

Select one the author’s work for your independent reading.

oGeorge Orwell: Essays, “A Hanging” (1931) and “Shooting an Elephant” (1936)

o Jacob Riis: How the Other Half Lives

o Studs Terkel: WorkingDivision Street

o Alex Kotlowitz: There are No Children Here, The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, and Never a City So Real

o Jonathan Kozol: Savage Inequalities

You will read your individual selections in class or for homework. As you read,

  •  mark up the texts:
  • Instances of selection or highlighting
  • Instances of deflection (where the author appears to have omitted or underplayed information or issues)
  • Other issues you notice related to writing about the lives of other people.

In class, we will discuss:

  • What they are finding from their independent reading and note-taking
  • How it compares to your own work as documenters reportage. We are now well positioned to think carefully about the challenges inherent in this work.

Final Assignment

 In your reading and writing you have explored texts where writers and photographers wrestled with what was important and what was dangerous presenting the lives of others – particularly other people who could not or represent themselves. For this final assignment, you will revisit these texts and write a 500-word response that reflects your beliefs about doing work “on behalf of others.

n your paper, please do the following things:

1) Take a position relative to Agee’s claim that it is “curious . . . obscene a thoroughly terrifying” to “pry intimately” into the lives of other human being

2) Explain your position by drawing on your own reporting work and on with the various texts you’ve studied during this task.

3) Be sure to use specific examples from these texts to support each of the points you want to make about doing this kind of work.

4) Consider what people who hold a different point of view might say. How to answer their concerns and questions?

5) In your conclusion pose at least three questions this experience raises about the importance and the challenges of creating—and reading—acclaiming aim to do good on behalf of others. In other words, what lessons does this experience hold for me as a reader or viewer or listener? What lessons for me as a reporter? If I returned my micro-report to these people who live in the place I described, would they recognize themselves or be ashamed? Would they feel diminished or well served?

The score of your essay will be based on how well you:

• State your position clearly and fully.

• Make specific claim(s) or point(s) that support your position.

• Develop your claim(s) using your own ideas and evidence (such as data, quotes, and observations).

• Cite, analyze, and connect the evidence to your argument.

• Address claims or viewpoints that differ from your position or argument.

• Write a conclusion that summarizes your argument and helps your readers to think (for instance, what future implications or consequences might result from continuing or not continuing to sanitize literary works?)

• Organize your essay clearly using words, phrases, transitions, and clauses to show how the parts of your argument are related.

• Use a formal style and objective tone.

• Use the conventions of standard written English and vocabulary relevant to the topic.


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