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The Stories Around Us

The Stories Around UsTufts' EXPOSURE photojournalism program trains its lens on the city of Boston.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.13.09] This past winter break, eight Tufts students were sent out into the streets of Boston with their cameras. Their assignment? Tell the stories of the city.

This type of assignment was not new to members of EXPOSURE, the photojournalism program on documentary studies and human rights founded at Tufts' Institute for Global Leadership (IGL). But while they are used to training their lenses around the world-EXPOSURE has sent students to workshops in Kosovo, Kashmir, Argentina and elsewhere in its five-year history-this year students benefited from the experience of 1988 Tufts graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Jim MacMillan, who was on hand to help them find the stories in their own backyard.

It is important, IGL Director Sherman Teichman says, to explore "our community as well as the origins of people in our city. This is a nation of migration." 

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For the workshop, held during the first week of January, students submitted themes they wanted to explore. During the course of the week, they went out into the city by day and reconvened with the group in the evening for discussion and reflection.

"For me this workshop hasn't been about making my best work or greatly advancing my photo skills, but about learning to be a journalist," EXPOSURE participant and sophomore Aalok Kanani wrote in the project blog. "The documentary art is as much about the story as it is the photos, and pushing till you get the story is essential. Hunting down leads, calling people five or six times a day taught me what it takes to be a photojournalist besides beautiful photos, and often even how to get those beautiful themselves."

MacMillan says the students also learned important lessons about themselves.

"They each had a unique experience. Each grew in unique ways," he says. "Good journalism is always a mirror on yourself when you cover other people. In many cases, they were often covering people not much like themselves. They were covering communities they didn't ordinarily belong to."

MacMillan reconnected with Tufts a few years ago, after Tufts Art Gallery curator Amy Schlegel selected one of his photos for the university's collection. In 2005, he became a fellow in the IGL's INSPIRE (Institute Scholars and Practitioners in Residence) program and the following year, he brought Tufts EXPOSURE students to Philadelphia for a photojournalism workshop that explored gun crime in the city. But this year's workshop is the first time Boston has been the focus of an EXPOSURE project.

 In January and February, EXPOSURE held two exhibits at the Slater Concourse Gallery on the Medford/Somerville campus. The first exhibit, the product of a week six Tufts students spent in northern Uganda, focused on the aftermath of the there, while the second showed work from an EXPOSURE workshop last June documenting contemporary issues in Cambodia.

While the workshop focused on stories based in Boston, as Teichman sees it, every story has a global context.

"Whatever happens internationally or globally can have impact locally," says Teichman. "There are rarely insulated or isolated stories."

The project resulted in one student, junior child development major Erin Baldassari, publishing her feature about the barbershop culture in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in The Boston Globe on March 8. The article came about after IGL associate director Heather Barry (A'88) contacted fellow Tufts alum and award-winning Globe reporter Neil Swidey (A'91) to suggest featuring student work in the newspaper.

MacMillan says he that while he is happy to have reconnected with his alma mater and work with the IGL, he is particularly pleased to have the opportunity to work with Tufts students.

"Running a workshop like this is loaded with its own rewards. It's as edifying for me as for anybody, and I think that's why I do it," he says. "The students inspire me and I learn as much as anyone."

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications

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