Featured Course

Documenting Durham: Capturing Place Through Words and Image


Corner of Mangum & Geer by Holly Bourne, from the Spring 2016 Documenting Durham class

This course, co-taught by a nonfiction writer and a photojournalist, explores the art and craft of documenting place through words and images. Using the city of Durham as a practice ground, students will learn the skills essential to create both documentary writing and photography, as well as explore how these two genres can be used in concert to deepen a story. Given its rich history and current state of growth and change, Durham offers many opportunities for place-based storytelling that motivates thinking and reflection in others.

Students will study writing and photographs that effectively capture place, examining how these works engage with issues, evoke certain moods, and draw out narratives; discuss ethical aspects of gathering and working with stories that are not their own; and learn practical skills of both genres. They will learn how to report and conduct interviews as well as how to structure written work—incorporating research, observation, quotation, and reflection—and develop their personal literary voice. And they will learn essential elements of good visual storytelling, with an emphasis on portraiture and building a narrative through photo essays.

Throughout this six-week course, students will learn by doing, spending time in the field reporting, taking photos, and then sharing their experiences back in the classroom. As a final project, they will immerse themselves in a corner of Durham—a neighborhood, a street, a block, a building. They may produce a personal essay or a piece of literary nonfiction accompanied by several images or a photo essay with detailed captions or an introduction—or some other project that combines writing and photographs. As they work, students will receive feedback from their classmates and instructors. In the end, they will walk away with a broadened skillset for documentary work, and an understanding of how to bring places to life in textured and nuanced ways.

Christina Cooke is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who writes about people, place, culture, outdoor adventure and travel for venues including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Oxford American, Our State, High Country News, Portland Monthly, and Willamette Week. Previously, she worked two years as a staff writer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, earning the paper a first-place award from the state press association, and another year as the only full-time reporter for a weekly paper in Portland, Oregon. Cooke finds herself drawn to tell stories at the fringes of society, about people who are offbeat and unconventional, passionate and obsessed, and masters of their own, very specialized domains. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Portland State University and is a graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. Find out more and view writings at www.christinacooke.com.

Kate Medley is a Durham-based photojournalist and filmmaker of food culture. As a documentarian for Whole Foods, Medley travels the East Coast capturing the stories of the farmers who supply the grocery store. As a filmmaker with the Southern Foodways Alliance, Medley has created several documentary films that explore southern culture through stories about food. Most recently, the Counter Histories series, produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, documents lunch counter sit-ins across the South, and A Spoken Dish celebrates the diverse food culture across the region through a series of eighty-five short videos. Medley received her bachelor’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Montana and her master’s in southern studies from the University of Mississippi. She has worked as a photojournalist for newspapers across the South, including the Charlotte Observer and the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and as a contributor for the New York Times.

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