The Photo Essay

About the Genre:

A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story. As we’ve seen, while photos are often considered incapable of lying because they “quote” from reality rather than altering it, pictures by themselves in isolation (both in time and space) are also often ambiguous and necessarily incomplete. Over time, the subjects of photos become distant and alien to their viewers. John Berger suggests that by creating stories with pictures, we can remedy such ambiguity and alienation by re-creating a “living context” that establishes a field of meaning that makes the photos come to life.

Unlike typical stories (say a written, oral, or video story), however, photo essays can’t provide continuous, seamless narrative meaning, since they are composed of single and “frozen” snapshots.  Therefore, the connections between images are always to a certain degree jarring and surprising. It is your job in this photo essay to compose a story that capitalizes on such surprise by helping the viewer see and build connections between your images. Together, they should contribute to a complex web of meaning that stimulates reflection on your topic and shows the things presented in a new and revealing light.  

S. Byttebier, PhD/Senior Lecturer




The Shot List (ppt)

Photo essay storyboard

Handout on Captions and Cutlines

Handout on the Photo Essay Introduction

Student Example #1 “London in Color”

Student Example #2  “London: The Isolation of Rich and Poor”