The Genre Conventions of Photo Essays (IW2)

Drew Garza

Whitney James

ENGL 20803.017

October 9, 2019

Invention Writing #2

For the second Invention Writing of the semester I have chosen the photo essay medium and my project #2 will be over offshore oil drilling. In order to learn about the genre conventions of a photo essay and the “dos and don’ts” we will look at three different examples of famous essays from around the world.

Here are the three photo essays:

  1. Author: Emily Rauhala (Time Magazine)- https://time.com/3812316/inside-hong-kong-protests/
  2. Author: Bryan Denton (New York Times) – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/31/world/middleeast/at-the-front-in-a-scarred-falluja.html?_r=0
  3. Autor: Jessica Earnshaw (National Geographic)- https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2016/07/aging-in-prison–photographer-shines-light-on-loneliness-and-soc/

To begin, the main thing that every photo essay contains are, of course, photos. Photos are the main feature in these essays and they are put their so the reader can develop their own feelings and thoughts toward a certain topic. After looking through many photo essays, one of the main similarities within each of these photos is that the person/s in the photo are staring directly at the camera. This isn’t a random thing, but this is able to draw emotion from the readers and feel more connected to that certain  photo. For example, in the first article link dealing with the Hong Kong protest, there are numerous photos of protestors who are marching for democracy, where they are directly looking at the camera when protesting and that makes a strong impact on the reader which exactly what the author wants. In contrast, when it comes to differences, one thing that stood out was that some photos essays (#1 and 3) use captions under the photos to describe what’s going on and  give the reader details. Others,  like essay #2,  don’t use captions and let the photo purely speak for itself. Instead, he describes what’s going on in the actual text of the essay rather than sideline captions for that photo only.

In addition, another genre convention that was prevalent throughout all three of essays would be that there is a central theme behind them. There seems the be a central theme that the author wants to bring light to the surface and have the audience be aware of what’s going on around the world that you don’t see in the typical daily news.  For example, in example 1, the author wants to show you first hand of the protest and protestors that are currently going on in Hong Kong dealing with lease between China and British colonies back then. In example 2, the U.S hardly ever shows parts of the war-torn middle east and the damages that each of these cities go through during the never-ending war. In example 3, the author puts forth the aging inmate population and how people who have been in jail for more than 30+ years might have changed. The central idea for that article would be prison reform and a different approach on how we should treat criminals.

 In addition, another similarity I found between my photo essays would be the first picture. The first picture on a photo essay doesn’t seem to give away what the theme is for the essay, but makes it interesting to draw them in. 1 or 2 photos at the beginning of your essay should lead your readers to more impactful photos as the reader goes forward. This convention helps you choose the most important elements to draw in the reader in the beginning and leave them with a lasting impression at the end and finally develop the narrative you were going for. This helps the reader remember the essay better due to be impactful picture selections.

Last but not least, one more convention that I found that most photo essays contain would be an intro of what is yet to come. Sort of like an abstract that describes the primary objective of your essay and the intentions you have so your readers can have a clear walk as they read your essay. My examples from Time Magazine and Natural Geographic have opening statements before the article even begins to give some background knowledge of the topic that is going to be discussed or where the photo originated from. The article from New York Times doesn’t quite have a statement, but I think he tries to emphasize the main idea within the first paragraph.

In conclusion, a photo essay is quite simple but the small things that the author does combines together with all the other small things which in turn makes photo essays very powerful in today’s time. Many famous photo essays have emerged to be some of the most striking pieces to grab attention where it is needed.