An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Upper School Photography: Photojournalism as truth-telling

Upper School photography teacher Barry Wong tells his students that documentary photographers want their photos to convey answers to "the basic questions - who, what, when, where and why, and how; it's classic journalism."

May 2018

“Good photography can be a powerful tool for truth-telling,” photography teacher Barry Wong tells his advanced photography classes. “It can inform and change minds.” Wong, who was a longtime, award-winning photojournalist for The Seattle Times, emphasizes the importance of a free press. He notes how historically “the first thing a dictator does is try to restrict communications — taking control of newspapers, radio and TV stations.” These days, he tells students, with good photography skills they don’t need to work for a media company to become a truthteller; they have many platforms available to share their work.

Sophie L. ’18 explains her documentary photo to her Advanced Photography classmates.“We want to know what you know about what you shot,” Wong tells students. “Typically a journalist would be writing down names and locations very accurately. One thing in journalism: If you don’t know, don’t make it up!”

In his advanced photography classes, he shows how propaganda photos in information-restricted places like North Korea and Congo contrast with the images photojournalists take when they’re free to document truth. Students are assigned to take their own photos to show truth.

“If you’re going to be a documentary photographer, your reputation rides on accuracy and authenticity of your photos,” he reminds them. No re-creating scenes, no Photoshopping. “Each of us is human, has our own flaws, and how we might see something is influenced by our upbringing, but you need to tell something as truthfully as you humanly can.” 

Photo by Sophie L. '18

Photo by Preston B. '18

Photo by Helen D. '18