The LAMP is currently running a series of Saturday workshops with the Mount Hope Housing Company in The Bronx. Megha Kohli is the lead facilitator for the “Taking Pictures, Telling Stories” workshop, and filed this report:“We are now two weeks in to our “Taking Pictures, Telling Stories” workshop at the Mount Hope Community Center in the Bronx. With a group of around ten high schoolers, the sessions have been rich with interesting discussion and insightful analyses. We noticed that last week, the students were really interested in our discussion about advertising, and so, in that vein, we decided it was time to pull out the big guns—we showed them the Dove Evolution video.
For me, this was by far the most exciting and interesting thing I’ve witnessed during the workshop so far, although it’s only the second week. The students in our workshop had never seen the video before, and they were actually stunned. In short, the video shows in fast-motion all of the physical grooming and manipulation that goes into creating a billboard advertisement—the final product is far from ‘natural’ beauty. After watching the video for a second time, we started asking the kids what the video revealed them about images, about beauty product advertising and about Dove as a company. One of the students commented that you can’t trust an image. Another noted that usually in beauty product ads, the ideal is portrayed, but in this Dove advertisement they were concerned with reality. The students seemed energized by the message of the commercial: “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” We talked about this message in relationship to image, self-image, and business logic. It was clear that the story of the Dove Evolution video was an insight to the stories of the images around us—what is real? What is ideal? What are we encouraged to understand as real? In short, the students were feeling pretty happy with Dove as a company.Next we showed a commercial for Axe body spray. Students quickly pointed out that this commercial was blatantly displaying an ideal fantasy. Suffice it to say, it is opposite of Dove Evolution commercial in every way . . . except one. Dove and Axe are both part of the same company: Unilever. When we revealed this fact—and oh it hurt us so!—all students were shocked. One of our typically quiet girls asked: “How can they do that?! It’s so hypocritical.”
What was most valuable out of these discussions was the understanding of the decisions made behind the image, whether print or video, and how these decisions cultivate a story that is very powerful. A story of beauty. A story of comfort. A story of success. The students seemed particularly interested in how these stories intersect with consumerism, a theme we plan to weave into the rest of the workshops.
The second half of the afternoon, the students worked with Gamestar Mechanic, an educational video game program that both educates and entertains. Representatives from Gamestar Mechanic were on hand as well. While playing the video game, students are challenged to think like a game designer–a very challenging job! To pass exercises and levels in the games, students must think critically about the rules and goals, limits and possibilities of the software. It will come as no surprise, the students really enjoyed this. And even they’d tell you it wasn’t all fun and games–sometimes more like frustration and work! But by the end of our session, kids were glued to the games; they were up for the challenge.
The next couple of weeks will be very exciting for the students, as we will do exercises that will help them focus and define the trajectory of their own projects. We’re looking forward to taking all of the lessons we’ve covered, and putting them into action!”