My Life in 20 Pictures – a research project

A few months ago, I was approached by Neil Ward, photojournalism instructor at Centennial College, and Debbie Gordon, Director of the Kids Media Centre for help on a very exciting project.

This project, “My Life in 20 Pictures,” aimed to address the perceptions of First Nations’ life by empowering children and youth from the Sakatcheway Anishinabe First Nation School in Grassy Narrows to tell their own stories through the camera’s lens. The goal was to remove any possible media bias and let children do the storytelling. In essence, they asked children to become journalists and documentarians, giving them the opportunity to share the images and stories that frame their daily lives.

Key Objectives of the “My Life in 20 Pictures” Project

The Kids Media Centre had several goals for this project.

  • To provide First Nation children with an enriched media education curriculum, exposing them to the importance of journalism and specifically photojournalism as a story telling device
  • To send Centennial College instructors (2) and journalism students/graduates (3) to the Grassy Narrow’s community school in northwestern Ontario to provide classroom instruction and hands-­on, real world learning on how to construct a story through pictures
  • To provide children (and educators) with the creative, design and organizational skills to allow them to document their own life perspective
  • To teach children how to operate photographic equipment, and design software and apply a full range of critical thinking skills to photo essay development and design
  • Instill First Nations’ children with a sense of personal pride and pride in community

Based on these objectives and the needs of the school, the two-faculty, three-student team from Centennial created a solid curriculum for their 5 day visit:

Curriculum for Grassy Narrow’s Students

  • traditional literacy-­‐ reading, writing, oral communications
  • media literacy – media literacy skills are central to this project and photo essays encourage both reflection and critical thinking as well the creative production of content
  • problem solving – a set of skills that help children understand and solve problems i.e., organizing their shoot, envisioning breadth and context of photographs
  • creativity – written and visual layout of their photo essays, utilizing Adobe software for highlighting elements of the pictures
  • social/emotional curriculum – these skills are a prerequisite for children succeeding in school. Participation, perspective-­‐taking, listening to instruction are all active skill required with this assignment.


To make this project a success though, a couple very important technological items were needed; cameras and – you guessed it – imaging software.


Rod McLeod of Henry’s Camera in Toronto charmed the company into generously donating 14 digital cameras. These cameras would be left behind for the students continued use and learning after the visit.


Adobe’s Corporate Social Responsibility team provided current copies of Photoshop and Première Elements for the school.

The Project

The project ran from ran from May 12 – 18 and by all accounts it was a huge success.

While on site at Grassy Narrows, the three journalism students from Centennial College’s Fast-Track program (Mathew Wocks, Arielle Quigley and Georgia Williams) taught basic photographic principles, composition methods and software operation to the Grade 4 and 8 students. Each day they had different assignments, from composition assignments to photo essays.

Matt has some one-on-one time with a grade 4 student.

Matt has some one-on-one time with a grade 4 student.

On a personal note, this program is very near and dear to my heart; I taught the photojournalism course in the Fast Track program at Centennial since its inception well over a decade ago, right up until I joined Adobe two years ago.

Just reading the personal blog posts  of the Centennial students shows how engaged the children were and how much the Centennial students enjoyed the work they were doing at Grassy Narrows.

The onsite work with the children and youth at Grassy Narrows just recently wrapped up and everyone, child and teacher alike, were thrilled with the experience and the results. Hundreds of photos were taken by the students at Grassy. The journalism students not only taught and shared with faculty and students, but also conducted many interviews with the children. I hear there may even be a documentary in the making…

What’s Next

This project hasn’t simply ended after the 5-day visit, either. Continued contact with the school is planned via the Kids Media Centre, and I’ll be sharing learning resources with one of the local faculty, to help him and other faculty and students learn more about the new creative tools at their disposal.

It’s also hoped that additional stories and coverage of the project will eventually be shared via the My Life in 20 pictures website, including some of the photo essays created by the Grassy Narrows students.

Gallery Display

Centennial School of Journalism faculty and researchers also plan to partner with one of Ontario’s/Toronto’s major news outlets to build awareness of the “20 Pictures” website and the photo essays from this project. Centennial’s School of Communication, Media and Design also boasts a gallery space called The Corridor, which features student and faculty work but would also prove – in my mind – to be a nice venue for a gallery showing.

In the meantime though, to close off this post, I’d like to sare with you a very small sampling of the phots taken by some of the Grassy Narrows students. Enjoy!


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