Ukraine Students Hang School Day-in-the-Life Photos

photo by Ira Sutnyk

Volodymyr-Volynsky Ukraine) School #5 High School students are currently hanging their photo exhibition, “A Day in the Life” of their school as the final lesson in their fall photo workshop.


moc.liamtoh|ewohjr#ewoH nayR, a Peace Corps Volunteer at the time, initiated the workshop Nov. 19 after hearing about the “photo excursions” Robert R. Mercer was conducting with Lutsk Liberal Arts University students.

Instead of taking students out onto the streets to learn to report on strangers, the high school students photographed an environment with which they were intimate. The resulting images are now being hung. Howe completed his Peace Corps Service Nov. 23 and returned to Michigan’s upper peninsula. The gallery for his day-in-the-life project is his former classroom where he taught English for two years.

The workshop was conducted in three parts.

First, two high school students were recruited to test the application of the Lutsk photo excursion idea on high school students. Two young women in October were briefed on basic use of the camera. They were then given cameras and the run of the bazaar in Volodymyr-Volynsky. At the end of the afternoon, the instructors and the young women met in a local café where the photos were placed on a laptop and critiqued.

Howe asked the project be re-designed so students did not have to leave campus, which is far out on the edge of the small city. Mercer adapted the classic “Day in the Live” formula. Howe presented this project to his faculty, who approved it, including giving the students complete freedom to photograph any activity inside the school.


The second part of the workshop began at 8 a.m. with slides of the work of Dorothea Lange, Jill Krementz, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier Bresson. Based upon work his with younger Girl Scouts in California, Mercer limited the learning goals to “don’t’ center the subject” and “get close.”

He used his Photo Excursion design to lecture the seven students on getting complete coverage of each subject: Verticals and Horizontals of each subject framed as Wide, Medium, Close-Up, Extreme Close-up. He then had each student choose a partner and the partners shot each other using a minimum of the eight basic framings. After reviewing their digital camera screens, the students were each assigned a floor of the four-story school building. The building houses all grades, elementary and high school.

The shooters returned every 45 minutes to download photos and give their cameras to another photo student. Batteries were recharged in some cases as they were using an assortment of cameras and camcorders to make still images. The greatest surprise was that they came to create such powerful images out of such mismatched and aged gear. A grant for matching cameras had been turned down, but Mercer will pursue matching gear when creating any fuure workshop for youth.

Once the cameras were given to another team member, the first shooter sat down and reviewed images with the instructor. And 45 minutes later, they went out again and tried harder—with real results.

A final judging session was held at 1:30 p.m. in the school’s smart classroom. The images were projected on the screen and the students voted “in or out” in the manner of the Missouri Pictures of the Year Awards. Just over 100 images were voted in.


Howe and Mercer then culled the selection down to 44 images to match the budget.

Mercer worked with Russlan, a technician at Digital Express Photography in Lutsk, to create a relatively inexpensive method of making “self-matted” prints. Once the image was “PhotoShopped” for levels and exposure, and then cropped if needed, the approximately 13 centimeter by 19 centimeter image was centered, using “layers” on a larger 20 centimeter by 30 centimeter canvas. A 20X30 print was created with the broad white margins around the original image. The reason the smaller image size was used was to compensate for the video camcorders 2.5 megapixel image size. The machine prints cost $1. Cost was a huge issue in this nation in which a school teacher earns $200 each month.

For the third part of the workshop, the final prints were returned 70 kilometers from Lutsk by marshrutka (a mini van taxi) to the school Dec. 14. It snowed the entire way.


There, the students were shown how to write out a circle “C”, the year, and their name on a piece of paper. Then they used that paper to measure the distance under the image and printed their names using permanent markers in the border.

For probably the first time in their lives, the students learned what one creates intellectually has value and one owns it. That was capstone moment of the course.

Students then framed their work in $3 frames that provided simple elegance. It was stressed to them frames make a work permanent and will keep it safe for years. A United States grant is paying for the framing and printing costs.

The school is now constructing a wooden grid on the concrete wall on which the 44 framed prints will be hung.

The young women spoke of wanting to be photographers as they supervised the janitor designing the grid for hanging the prints. They had learned to get close, don’t center and make sure hands and eyes are in the photos.


They had learned they can create work of great value to their school, to the world.


photo by Chrisitna Paul

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