Spring 2008

Monday and Wednesday 10:10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Prerequisites: 3401 or consent of Instructor

Professor: Andrew Mendelson
Office: Annenberg 316
Phone: 215.204.5020
Email: andrewm@temple.edu
Office Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. or by appt.

Honesty: honesty in your vision; honesty in what you tell your subjects about your project and its purpose; honesty in your approach to your subject; and honesty in what you present to your viewers.

B.D. Colen

This course will expose you to both the history and practice of documentary photography. You will work on several documentary projects throughout the semester to hone your skills in photographing people and places over a longer time frame, attempting in each one to reduce a tiny area of the moving world to a set of still images (and text) that conveys what the viewer needs to know about what you saw. This course offers you the opportunity to hone your research, shooting and editing skills and refine your portfolio through documentary projects.

The course is designed as a projects/workshop class. It will serve as a forum where you can discuss your projects and help each other through critiques. Lectures, slide presentations, and reading assignments will provide guidance and inspiration. Readings and discussion will also focus on the practice of documentary photography, especially ethical issues you will face. In addition, you will analyze and critique many of the classic documentary projects. This course will remain fairly informal to encourage an atmosphere in which you can support each other, explore solutions to journalistic challenges, and discuss ethical and philosophical issues.

You are expected to have your own photographic equipment and you will be responsible for your own processing and printing. It is assumed that you are technically proficient with your camera and software such as Adobe PhotoShop, as well as the skills from Audio/Video Newsgathering.

Course objectives

  • To explore issues facing documentary photographers.
  • To explore the history of documentary photography by examining important projects of the past
  • and issues faced by the photographers.
  • To gain experience and sensitivity in working with subjects over an extended period of time.
  • To construct narratives through photographs and text.
  • To help you hone your personal style and photographic philosophy.


Be here. Always. Discussions and critiques are an important part of the course and your absence from the discussions will be noted. Frequent absences will affect your grade. In addition, merely attending is not enough; participation is essential.

I expect you to approach this class in a professional manner. I expect you to be on time, to come prepared and to participate fully. It is inconsiderate to both your colleagues and me to disrupt the class by walking in late. Further, I expect that cellphones, pagers, etc. are turned off prior to class.

Required Books

Robert Coles, Doing Documentary Work Ken Light, Witness in our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers.

George Orwell, The Road To Wigan Pier (also can be found for free at https://www.george-orwell.org/)

Additional Chapters & Articles

Howard Chapnick, Ideas: The lifeblood of a photojournalist. (will be handed out in class)

Howard Chapnick, Personal Projects. (will be handed out in class)

Calvin Pryluck, Ultimately we are all outsiders: The ethics of documentary filmmaking. (on Blackboard)

Jay Ruby, The ethics of imagemaking; or “They’re going to put me in the movies. They’re going to make a big star out of me ” (on Blackboard)

C.Z. Smith & S. Whitney, Living with the Enemy: Reflections from Those who Know. (on Blackboard)

Recommended Books

Various Peachpit Press’ Visual QuickStart Guide for software applications.

Associated Press Stylebook


Media issues and content cannot be thoughtfully and rigorously discussed without an occasional reference to unpopular ideas or to offensive material. We will not hide from the hard questions, but we all are expected to remain sensitive to individual differences. The diversity of a multicultural society requires that we discuss differences with no anger, arrogance or personal attacks, and without perpetuating stereotypes about gender, age, race, religious affiliation, sexual preference, national origin, dialect or disability.

Further, we will spend much time providing feedback to each other about our projects. I expect that all feedback will be offered in a constructive manner.

Academic Honesty

Please be assured that in this class we will abide by all rules and regulations defined by Temple University concerning academic honesty. You are expected to do all your own work. No work done for another class may be turned in for this class.

Academic Freedom

Freedom to teach and freedom to learn are inseparable facets of academic freedom. The University has a policy on Student and Faculty and Academic Rights and Responsibilities (Policy #03.70.02). To view the policy, click here.


Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss the specific situation as soon as possible. Contact Disability Resources and Services at 215-204-1280 in 100 Ritter Annex to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities.

Other information

I am here to help you throughout the semester. Please feel free to bounce ideas off me. Please communicate immediately if there are any special situations that arise.


Assignments are due at the scheduled times regardless of class attendance, and since the critiques are an integral part of the course, your absence from the discussion will be noted. There will be a 10 percent per day penalty for work handed in late.

All photo assignments will be graded for aesthetic quality, technical quality, content of individual photos and how well the collection holds together. Text elements will be graded for content and technical aspects (spelling, style, sounds quality, etc.). In addition, overall presentation of the package will be considered in the grade.

  1. Create your photoblog
    Most of the assignments will be turned in via a photoblog you create. This will facilitate viewing of the material and reduce production costs. Click here to create one. After creating one, you will need to email me your blog address so I can add it to the class’ blackboard page.
  2. Philadelphia Past and Present
    For this assignment you must locate 10 related photographs from Temple’s Digital Diamond photo archive that are at least 50 years old. These photos may be related geographically (same area of Philly) or thematically (e.g., all stores in Philly). Your job is to go out and find the locations and produce photographs of the scene capturing the same point-of-view as the original. You will post to your blog both the originals (which you can download from the archive) and your new versions. In addition you will need to caption the photographs by location and subject.
  3. To locate old photographs of Philadelphia:

    1. Go to library.temple.edu
    2. Click on the”Archives & Collections: link
    3. Click on the “Digital Diamond” link
    4. Enter a search topic, such as a street name

    Or go to the Free Library’s Historical Images of Philadelphia archives:

    1. https://libwww.library.phila.gov/hip/

  4. Twelve at the City Hall
    For this assignment you will photograph portraits of 12 different people (who you do not know) that you encounter in/around City Hall. You must be closer than 10 feet away from each person. You must learn each person’s name and how long s/he has been living in the Philadelphia-area (or whether s/he is just visiting). You must ask them what brings them to City Hall. You must also ask what each person likes most about Philly and what each likes the least. Get direct quotes. Additional information is
    welcome. Try to make the portraits stylistically similar.
    You will post one photograph/portrait of each person (the most telling image) and a typed paragraph of who they are and their answers, in full sentences. You will also turn in proof sheets or cds of everything you shot.
  5. Mapping Center City Philadelphia
    For this assignment you will need to photographically map one street in Center City from river to river.
    In one outing you will start at either the Delaware River or the Schuykill River and move toward the other river. You will post one photograph from each block in sequential order, shooting as many as you need to do this. Captions will include the location details and the time the photograph was taken. Try to make the photographs stylistically/thematically similar. Once you start your mapping trip you can not stop until you reach the other river, nor can you return to a previous block once you have moved to the next one. We will assign streets in classes to cover all of Center City. Two people will have each street and you may go out together, though you must shoot independently. You may scout the street ahead of time (this does help).

    • Spring Garden
    • Race
    • Arch
    • Market
    • Chestnut
    • Walnut
    • Spruce
    • Pine
    • Lombard
    • South
  6. Philly A to Z
    For this assignment you will explore Philadelphia from an alphabetical perspective. Find things or people in the city that stand for each letter, A to Z (e.g., A is for Alma de Cuba; B is for Ben Franklin…), Be creative. Make sure your work holds together stylistically and thematically. You will post 26 photos on your blog in alphabetical order with short captions stating “A is for”, etc. and the location of the photograph.
  7. My World
    For this assignment, you will try to tell us a visual story about who you are; Give us a sense of your personality and your priorities. Your photography must include a self-portrait. Consider your family, friends, pets and things that matter to you most. In addition you could include the neighborhood where you live and the interior of your living quarters. Your final package will be a audio slide show of at least 30 secs and 8 photos, with you narrating about your life.
  8. A Life of a Colleague
    For this assignment, you will document the life of (or some aspect of) a classmate. Your final package will be a audio slide show of at least 1 minute and 12 photos, plus an audio story. Make as many images as necessary to capture what you feel is important about this person. Interview as many people as necessary to tell the story.

    You will turn in a 1-2 page proposal on your topic for approval and suggestions. (See handout)

    Work in Progress critiques
    For each work in progress session, be prepared to talk about what is working and what problemsyou are facing on the project. Part of the work in progress grade will be editing other people’s images.
    Work in Progress 1: Bring/post at least 10 work prints.
    Work in Progress 2: Bring/post everything you have shot to edit (printed or electronic).

  9. Final Project
    For the final project, you will do an in-depth documentary project around some issue/place/concept related to city life. You will choose a specific topic that falls under one of the general issues below and with instructor approval. Make as many images as necessary to capture what you feel is important about this topic. Interview as many people as necessary to tell the story. Draw on research from appropriate sources. This will be an audio slide show of at least 2 minutes in length and 15-20 photographs, plus an audio story.

    You will turn in a 1-2 page proposal on your topic for approval and suggestions (See handout).
    Topics must fit within one of the following areas: Immigration, Race, Gender, Housing, Religion, Youth culture, Elderly, Class, Environment, Health issues, Education, Labor, Transportation, Recreation, Disabilities.

    Work in Progress critiques
    For each work in progress session, be prepared to talk about what is working and what problems you are facing on the project. For each successive critique session you must bring at new work.
    Part of the work in progress grade will be editing other people’s images.
    Work in Progress 1: Bring or have posted at least 10 work prints.
    Work in Progress 2: Bring/post first set of 10 work prints, plus at least 10 more.
    Work in Progress 3: Bring everything you have shot to edit (printed or electronic).

    Elicitation Paper
    Either halfway through the project or after completing your shooting, you will conduct a photo elicitation exercise with your subject(s) and turn in a 3-4-page paper summarizing the comments. See Smith & Whitney article for example and format.

  10. Photographer Case Study
    Each student will present a case study of past documentary project to the class. Plan on talking about the project and photographer for 10-15 minutes. You must briefly discuss the photographer’s biography and the background and significance of the project, show examples of the images from the project (at least 15). In addition, include in the presentation critiques of this project, the impact it had, issues/controversies arose in working on the project and your overall assessment of the project. A list of projects will be provided at a later date.
  11. Reaction pieces
    For every reading assignment, you are to prepare a reaction to something you have read in the assignment that you found insightful, interesting, strongly disagreed with, strongly agreed with, etc.
    By 9 am on the day a reading assignment is due, you must post to the Discussion Board section of Blackboard a brief summary of each of the readings. This should include for each reading:

    1. The key point(s) of each reading.
    2. Your critique of each reading (strengths/weaknesses). You must move beyond what the article you said and whether you liked it or not, to offer coherent critiques of the arguments of the article.
    3. Any questions from any of the readings (either on areas of confusion or areas for further discussion).

Assignment weights

Philadelphia Past and Present 75 points
12 people at the Italian Market 75 points
Mapping Center City Philadelphia 100 points
Philadelphia A to Z 100 points
My World in Eight 100 points
A life of a colleague 150 points
Proposal 25 points
Work in progress critique 1 25 points
Work in progress critique 2 25 points
Final project 200 points
Proposal 25 points
Work in progress critique 1 25 points
Work in progress critique 2 25 points
Work in progress critique 3 25 points
Elicitation Paper 50 points
Photographer case study 50 points
Reaction pieces 150 points (10 points each)
Participation 50 points
Total Points 1300 points

Grading Standards

An A represents outstanding or exceptional work that is good enough to be shown to other students as an example. A B grade indicates competent, satisfactory work. A C grade is assigned to work that merely fulfills the conditions of the assignment. A D grade will be given to work that does not fulfill the conditions of the assignment or is lacking in some important way. An F is a failing grade and would be given only if assignments were extremely poorly executed, or in the case of plagiarism or other failure to adhere to norms of academic honesty.

Final Grading Scale

92% and higher: A
90-91 A-
88-89: B+
82-87: B
80-81 B-
78-79: C+
70-77: C
60-69: D
Below 60%: F

To determine your grade, simply add up all the points you have earned on papers, projects, etc., and divide by the total possible points for these same projects (see above), and multiply by 100.