Lesson of the Day: A Photographer Capturing Stories That Otherwise Wouldn’t Be Told

Featured article: “A simple directive sparked a storied career: “Now take the shot”,’” by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff with photographs by Michelle V. Agins

Michelle V. Agins is one of the New York Times longest-serving photographers. As the second black woman to join the newspaper as a photographer, she has spent much of her career documenting black stories and the lives of black Americans.

In this lesson, you’ll examine Ms. Agins’ work and learn about her journey to becoming a professional photographer. Then, just as she does, you’ll tour your community and create your own visual story.

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be a photojournalist? Take a few minutes to think about what this job might entail. Then answer the following questions in writing or in discussion with a classmate:

  • What do you know about the profession of photojournalist? What are you wondering about that?

  • What do you think a day in the life of a photojournalist looks like? What qualities and skills might a photographer need to do their job well?

  • How do you think photos can tell stories? When you look at a photo, can you imagine what it’s like to be where it was taken?

To find out what the profession is all about, watch this video, which follows Todd Heisler, a New York Times photographer, through a day at work. Then answer the questions below:

  • What challenges did Mr. Heisler face on this assignment? What is he looking for when he is on a mission?

  • What does he seek to capture in his photographs?

  • Has the video changed your ideas about being a photojournalist? Did anything Mr. Heisler say stand out to you?

Read the articleand answer the following questions:

1. How did Ms. Agins’ childhood influence her career choice?

2. What were the challenges she faced while becoming a photographer?

3. Why does Ms. Agins feel drawn to documenting black histories and the lives of black Americans?

4. What approaches to visual storytelling do Ms. Agins and Mr. Heisler have in common?

5. Review the article and pause for a photo. As you take a closer look, answer these questions adapted from our What’s Going On In This Picture? function (be sure to write beyond the information in the text):

  • What is happening in this image?

  • How does this photo make you feel?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can you find?

6. The author writes that Ms Agins “considers her camera to be part of the ongoing conversation she has with the world around her”. What do you think Mrs. Agins means?

After witnessing and photographing the violence in her community, Ms. Agins realized that “news photography could provide evidence and tell important stories in black and working-class neighborhoods like hers.”

What important stories could you tell through photos of your community? What groups or individuals are often overlooked? Which corners of your city go unnoticed? What events, programs or gatherings in your community are not getting enough attention?

Pick a story about – or a particular angle on – where you live. Here are some examples of photo essays that appeared in the New York Times: block parties around New York; life at the band camp; and urban fisherman from Los Angeles. You can also check out the work of Ms. Agins and Mr. Heisler for more inspiration.


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