Lens Collective Workshop to View ‘The Land Through Our Lens’

UM students to work with mentors to create visual stories about Mississippi landscapes

Speaker and visiting faculty member Eric Seals (right), of the Detroit Free Press, helps Penn State University student Victoria Leuang with setting up her camera during a Lens Collective workshop. Seals a nine-time Emmy winner, is again serving as a mentor for this year’s workshop. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media‘s annual multimedia storytelling workshop, Lens Collective, will explore the idea of Mississippi land this fall.

Set for Oct. 23-26, The Land Through Our Lens conference will document stories about Mississippi land, specifically in Oxford, Holly Springs, the nearby community of Taylor and surrounding areas, and various Delta towns. 

“We are still securing stories, but we hope to focus on the Mississippi River, canoeing, flooding damage, sweet potatoes, cotton, a gin distillery, catfish, prawns, pumpkins, restaurants who use local ingredients and a host of other stories,” said Alysia Steele, an assistant professor of journalism who founded and leads the workshop and conference.

Students will choose their own stories and work in teams with a mentor, documenting the story with audio, video and still photography. The projects are 3-5 minutes long, and students have about eight hours to produce the work. It usually takes 7-10 hours to produce one minute of film, Steele said.

Emma Howells, an Ohio University student, shares a laugh with George Stanberry, who grew up disadvantaged by the education system in Leflore County, during a Lens Collective workshop. He mentors young people as pastor of Sidon Bible Fellowship, a church in his hometown of Sidon, and has founded a library to help younger generations remember the past. Submitted photo

Steele was inspired to create the Lens Collective in 2017 by the Dawn to Dusk program at her alma mater, Ohio University. Students documented a story for a day and published their work. An Allegheny College professor, who was also an Ohio University alumnus, added to the concept, including more universities and community partnerships.

Steele combined the two ideas and added her own twist, creating a four-day workshop that usually has around 60 participants. In 2017, the focus was blues music. Last year, Steele chose to highlight civil rights stories. This year, it’s all about land.

“So much has happened because of weather, and we know it’s affected farmers,” she said. “The workshop has typically been held in the spring, but I wanted to move it to fall so we could get root vegetables, cotton, and the weather wouldn’t be so hot.”

Besides Ole Miss, students from Alcorn State University, Ohio University, Ball State University, Hampton University, Middle Tennessee State University and Penn State University have confirmed they will participate this year, she said.

UM student Libby Phelan (left) and teammate William Kelly, of Jackson State University, enjoy a moment of laughter during a 2018 Lens Collective guided tour hosted by the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. The students went to historic locations from the civil rights movement in Ruleville, Mound Bayou and Cleveland. Submitted photo

Mentors this year include nine-time Emmy-winning photojournalist Eric Seals of the Detroit Free Press, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Smiley Pool of The Dallas Morning News, and Akili Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association and an award-winning photo editor who has worked at the Los Angeles Times and was director of photography at the Orlando Sentinel.

“Our goals are simple: have a good time, be good to each other, be open to learning, understand that challenging experiences make us better and stronger, and do your best to tell good stories,” Steele said. “We want students to learn, to be open to meeting new people and to understand and appreciate differences.”

Visit the Lens Collective website to view student work.