• Full FrameEducation Week's Photo Blog

    Philadelphia School Crisis

    by Swikar Patel posted August 20, 2013

     

    Amani Bassett, 9, jumps rope in front of a mural nearby Leslie Pinckney Hill Public School in Philadelphia on August 15, 2013. The school has been closed and Amani will be going to a new school this year. -- Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    Amani Bassett, 9, jumps rope in front of a mural nearby Leslie Pinckney Hill Public School in Philadelphia on August 15, 2013. The school has been closed and Amani will be going to a new school this year. — Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    EdWeek: Jessica, these are some really telling images, can you talk a little bit about the assignment?

    Jessica: The assignment essentially was to take a couple of portraits of key subjects in writer Jackie Zubrzycki’s article  about the budget crisis, and the uncertainty surrounding the Philadelphia school district and whether the schools would even be able to open on time. And the hope was that I could visually incorporate the mess and chaos and emotion involved and a bit of the news action angle while taking images of these subjects.

    Philadelphia skyline on Aug. 14. --Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    Philadelphia skyline on Aug. 14. –Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    Educators, certified nurses and other activists gather outside of the School District of Philadelphia building before a vote by the School Reform Commission of The School District of Philadelphia on Aug. 15. --Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    Educators, certified nurses and other activists gather outside of the School District of Philadelphia building before a vote by the School Reform Commission of The School District of Philadelphia on Aug. 15. –Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    EdWeekHow did being familiar with the issues help in making these images?

    Jessica: Honestly, I try to always make myself familiar with the issues of any assignment, time permitting. If I don’t understand the story I find I miss out on some of the nuances that can bring some emotion and context to an image. I’ve worked multiple stories on the school district and the financial crisis here in Philly over the past several years, so I have a bit of a network of resources that give me a heads up when something is happening.

    EdWeek:  You posted some compelling images to our Instagram feed while on assignment. http://instagram.com/educationweek# Can you talk about making images with your cellphone? What are your thoughts on cellphone photography/Instagram in the world of journalism?

    Jessica: I really dig shooting photos with my phone and posting to Instagram, I’m not going to lie. I’ve always been envious of people who have the drive and discipline to keep a written journal…I’ve failed at every attempt I’ve ever made at that. Instragram is my diary. Of course, if I had a written diary I don’t think I’d make it public, but then again, I might. As for cellphone photography & Instagram having a place in journalism, that’s a different thing. I think of it as more of a ‘behind the scenes’ look at an assignment. One that I can put my own spin or artistic interpretation on, more of a personal look at what’s happening. I think shooting with a cellphone is a lot like shooting with a spy camera.

    Dawn Dawkins and her son, Khyrie Brown, 13, stand outside Leslie Pinckney Hill Public School as it is being cleaned out in Philadelphia on Aug. 15. The school was closed in the spring as part of a citywide cost-saving intitiative; Khyrie will be going to a new school this year as a result. --Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    Dawn Dawkins and her son, Khyrie Brown, 13, stand outside Leslie Pinckney Hill Public School as it is being cleaned out in Philadelphia on Aug. 15. The school was closed in the spring as part of a citywide cost-saving initiative; Khyrie will be going to a new school this year as a result. –Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week

    EdWeekIt’s the subtleties that really set this image apart from the rest.Talk a little on your approach in making portraits and what do you look for?

    Jessica: Well, every portrait assignment is different. I have a method I sort of stick to though. I make sure to have a conversation with the subject or subjects first. It is important to me to know how the person or people feel. I need to tap into some of the emotion that person is experiencing. I usually do this while walking around a bit and getting a sense of the place I’m at. I look for something contextual in the environment. Once I have those two things I try and set the subjects up where I want them. I start shooting while we continue talking and try and capture those moments when I can see what they’re feeling in their face and body.

    The Photographer:

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    Jessica Kourkounis is a Philadelphia-based freelance photographer specializing in documentary, editorial, and portraiture work. To see more of her work visit http://www.kourkounis.com