Who determines the narrative of rural America? Why not the younger generation, empowered as visual storytellers.
This question is at the heart of one photojournalist’s work in rural Colorado. Abigail Harrison, a storyteller and educator based in the North Fork Valley, began teaching a photojournalism workshop in the fall of 2020 at the local high school in Paonia, Colorado. For six months, a class of 15 students explored topics including long-form photo essays, journalistic ethics, and editing/review. The curriculum was responsive to national news, including special sessions on the election and the insurrection on the capitol. The intention of this workshop, at its core, was to encourage participants to reflect critically on their circumstances, and feel empowered to share their unique stories.
Harrison is looking to continue working with local youth, by restructuring this program into a summer workshop series starting in early June. This workshop is a continuation of the previous, and will empower participants to share stories from their lived experiences. In doing so, students address a fundamental question of modern journalism: “Who controls the narrative?” These young storytellers will learn to wield their visual voice in consideration of a larger social context.
The value of this work in the community is palpable, as it is the only opportunity for young people in the North Fork Valley to learn the foundational skills of photojournalism. Rural areas tend to lack access to professional and technical development in specific industries. This workshop addresses this lack of accessibility directly, through hands-on experience using industry standard multimedia equipment/techniques, with the guidance of several industry professionals.Through a combination of lectures, roundtable discussion, and photography excursions, participants will learn and build upon concepts of camera use, journalism ethics, writing development, and artistic presentation. This prepares them to enter higher education and the workforce with critical reflective and professional skills.
Harrison has already sought aid for the project in several ways. She has provisional support from local organizations and individuals who have pledged a portion of the operating costs. She has also secured a partnership with a community education initiative, The Learning Council. The nonprofit was excited to work with Harrison on this endeavor, as her project fit easily into the organization’s mission.
The Learning Council utilizes the Gift Model which allows all who are interested to participate without financial restrictions. This allows youth in the NFV to learn how to use professional-grade cameras, learn from industry professionals, and participate in a curriculum that has been acknowledged by national news. This workshop aligns with The Learning Council’s mission to support educational opportunities to people of all ages, with a focus on community-building, health, social justice and practical arts.
The curriculum has been developed, but lacks the funds to make it happen. With your help, the workshop will have the capabilities to:
- compensate the instructor
- acquire camera and computer rentals from the school district.
- include professional photojournalists as guest lecturers
Beyond the journalistic element, this workshop will be a fun and collaborative way for local youth to learn how to use DSLR cameras. Participants will acquire skills and build upon the following concepts in the workshop:
- Mastering the use of their DSLR camera
- Understanding journalism ethics
- Developing a “visual voice”: strong writing and storytelling skills
- Artistic presentation of photos
Through a combination of lectures, roundtable discussion, and photography excursions, participants will sharpen their abilities as visual storytellers. They emerge with the skills and confidence to share the stories of their communities with integrity.
Can we count on your help to make this dream a reality for the youth of the North Fork Valley?