New Directions in Visual Storytelling
25 February 2013

New Directions in Visual Storytelling is a graduate-level seminar that focuses on alternative production and distribution paths for documentary, visual storytelling, and photojournalism in the context of networked, online communities. It explores the effect of technological change on the aesthetics, production methods, distribution, and social impact of visual storytelling. I taught this class in the master’s photojournalism program at Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington D.C. in autumn 2012.

Topics covered include online presentation platforms such as Zeega, the Tiziano Project, Screen, Storyplanet, MediaStorm, Newsmotion, VJmovement, Demotix, One Day on Earth, and other startup platforms and communities. We also consider the aesthetic and social impact of social media, user-generated content, and the collapse of strong divisions between audience and producers. We consider creative ways that media organizations and individual media producers take advantage of this rapidly changing technological environment, and investigate the role and continued space for traditional production skills, technologies, and institutions of culture and media – from the museum to the public broadcaster, from the large media corporation to technology companies, to new and unexpected ways to share and create images with social meaning, from Flickr and Vimeo to chatroulette and gaming subcultures. Throughout the course, we examine and critique a range of alternative visual storytelling projects.

Coursework for the semester includes readings and discussion, a series of assignments designed to be completed within a week or fortnight, and a significant final project that takes advantage of the new media ecosystem from aesthetic form, to production technique, to distribution.

This course runs as a seminar, with a focus on discussion and class presentation.

Week One
Discussion of the structure of the course, setting the scene. Background and establishing goals for participants. Research practice in digital media environments.

Assignment for week two: mapping your personal media practice. Track your visual media consumption, participation, and production over the course of the week, describe your usual media practice over the past five years, and whether it has changed over that time.

Week Two
Publics or publications? Online tools, communities, and periodicals. The future of media production and distribution, describing the current state of the field, and its direction. Readings include foundational texts that describe the architecture of networked media.

Reading for week two:
Dan Gillmor, We the Media. Introduction and Chapter One, pp. IX-22.
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks. Introduction and Chapter One, pp 1-58.
Larry Lessig – Code Chapter One, pp.3-8.

Assignment for week three: find a recent traditional photo essay, either in a newspaper or magazine, or online, and critique it from the following perspectives: aesthetic, historical context, distribution and impact, economic. Be prepared to discuss or present your critique to the class.

Week Three
Establishing a baseline: Current mainstream practice in photojournalistic visual storytelling. This week we will examine the best of contemporary photojournalism storytelling, starting with the work of active professionals who work in large and well-known photo agencies, and for mainstream newspapers and mass media outlets.

Reading material this week will continue to examine the structure, technology, and economics of media systems as a basis for understanding the present and future media ecosystems. Viewing is comprised of online stories that hew to a recent tradition of documentary, slideshows, and photojournalism stories.

Reading for week three:
Mark C. Taylor: The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture. Introduction and Chapter 1, pp. 3-46.
Tim Wu, The Master Switch. Part V, “The Internet Against Everyone,” pp. 255-319.
Networked Publics, Introduction:
The News We Get Is MacDonalds: News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance. Review:
Erik Baurnow – Documentary, chapter 5, Sharp Focus, pp. 229-294.

Viewing for week three: spend time familiarizing yourself with the online presentations of the following sites, and/or similar others.
Media Storm,
VII Photo Agency,
Panos Pictures,
Magnum in Motion,

Assignment for week four. Choose one story from the above or similar sources, and prepare a written critique of no more than 500 words.

Week Four
Visual practice in networked environments and visual narrative forms. This week we will begin a month-long exploration into narrative form and aesthetic in digital media. Previous narrative forms have been heavily influenced and even determined by the material constraints of the technology of their production. Digital forms are not dependent on those same technologies, and yet many of those forms remain popular and current, as vestigial arts that have lost a fundamental relationship to their material past. What effect does this break have on forms of visual narrative?

Reading for week four:
Networked Publics: Conclusion: The Rise of Networked Culture.
Networked Publics: Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation, pp.43-76.
Benkler, Part One, Chapter 3, Peer Production and Sharing, pp. 59-90

Viewing for week four:
AKA Kurdistan, Susan Meisalas,
Picture Projects, Farewell to Bosnia,
Chris Marker, La Jetee (film).

Assignment for week five: find and critique an alternative visual narrative form based on the logic of digital media technology. Be prepared to share your results with the class.

Week five
Is there such a thing as a native digital form? We explore the logic of tools, communities, the effect of the hyperlink, open and closed systems, blogs, and social media networks. We discuss platforms (computers, screens, mobile platforms, tablets) and attempts to make media for specific kinds of viewing experiences.

This week we also begin an exploration of existing online communities, tools, projects, exchanges, and organizations that focus on visual storytelling, multimedia presentations, photo and video. Assignments for the rest of the semester include joining, testing, and critiquing them. In lieu of a mid-term exam, students present the results of their choices to the class. We discuss different sites and projects eligible for analysis.

We also discuss final projects, using an online platform or platforms to create an instance of visual storytelling in the context of networked media production and distribution. We map out a schedule for project approval, creation, and presentation for the rest of the semester.

Viewing for week five:
Jonathan Harris,, I Feel Fine.
One Day on Earth,, Brandon Litman

Week six
Topography as a narrative form. Topographical images have a long history in the photographic context. Within online visual storytelling, it has become a particularly rich vein of new content.

Reading for week six:
Robert Adams, et al, New Topographics
Diane Dufour, Jean-Yves Jouannais, Topography of War. We will look the art of Jananne Al-Ani, An-My Le, Harun Farocki, Walid Raad, Jo Ratcliffe, Till Roeskens, and Donovan Wylie.

Viewing for week six:
Bear 71
I’m Just Walkin’
New York City Walk
Yellow Arrow,
Mapping Main Street,
Invincible Cities, Camilo Jose Vergara,

Presentations of online platform tests begins.

Week seven
The archive as a conceptual form contains a curious relationship to story. Ostensibly exhaustive or indexed, yet often structured with implicit narrative elements. We will explore the relationship between archive and story.

Viewing for week seven:
Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar
18 Days in Egypt,, Jigar Mehta
Citizens Archive of Pakistan:
Library of Congress Digital archives:
Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters:
Google Streetview Archive of Japan tsunami:

Listening for 10/22

Presentations of online platform tests continues.

Week Eight
Other narrative forms: Literary forms, journals and journeys, advocacy, landscape art, scrolls, and games are just some of the many other forms potentially put to use in visual storytelling.

Viewing for week eight:
Tim Hetherington, Diary
A Different Ending,
Pine Point,
Urban Survivors,

Presentations of online platform tests continues.

Week Nine
We will continue with a survey of alternative forms.

Viewing for week nine:
Prison Valley,
7 Billion Others,
Urban Survivors,
Mishka Henner, No Man’s Land,

Final Project proposals due. Presentations of online platform tests continues.

Week Ten
Online journals and dedicated projects. We will examine the structure, design, and content of a range of new online journals intended to showcase photojournalism and multimedia content.

Reading/viewing for week ten:
Fraction Magazine,
Interactive Narratives,
Senseable City,
Blue Eyes,
Auto de Fe,
Landscape Stories,

Presentations of online platform tests continues.

Week Eleven
Sharing and communities, copyright and distribution. We will examine the theory and legal solutions that support online communities, sharing content, reuse, and remixing.

Reading for week eleven.
Code: Part 3, Applications, pp 111-212
Lewis Hyde, Common As Air, chapter 1, Defending a Cultural Commons pp. 3-22, chapter 6, Liberty to Communicate, pp. 135-161
Creative Commons,

Weeks 12, 13, 14.

Group work on final projects and presentations. Presentations.

List of tools, communities, exchanges, organizations, platforms (partial, updated as needed during course)

Online tools, with community elements:
Popcorn js,,
Condition One

Communities, sometimes with embedded tools or open code:
Storyful,, Mark Little

Projects, with platforms and participation options
Tiziano Project,
Banyan Project,, Tom Stites
Global Lives,

Organizations (examples of distribution or action, very partial list)
Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting
Global Voices,
Facing Change
Digital Democracy
Development Seed
Video Volunteers
Center for Digital Storytelling

Markets and Exchanges