P.O. Box 3913 • Urbandale, IA • 50323 explore@cultureall.org 515-273-8569

Zoom In On Culture


One of the best ways to understand people from different cultures is to examine your own culture and compare it with others around you.  Zoom in On Culture – CultureALL’s hands-on photo-ethnography program – provides this understanding by teaching young people to use the art of photography as a tool to document, analyze, and appreciate different aspects of their own and other cultures.

Through a 7-week workshop, a professional photographer/CultureALL Ambassador teaches students the fundamentals of photography. With the help of other CultureALL Ambassadors, the photographer leads them through classroom exercises that facilitate ongoing discussions about culture, helping them learn more about themselves, their personal culture, and that of their classmates.

The goal for the project is for students to learn how to use photography to express themselves and their individual cultures as they:

  • Decide which images to photograph and what stories they tell;
  • Consider different perspectives that help them understand themselves better; and
  • Thoughtfully select how they want to present their work to their classmates, family, and neighbors. 
Student at Spring 2016 Photo Ethnography Exhibition
Student at Spring 2016 Exhibition (Photo by Kristy G. Knapp)

Throughout the project, students take photographs using their smart phones and digital cameras or tablets supplied by the school.  As they share their work in class, they discuss what each image reveals about their personality, values, and culture.  The project culminates in a public Photo Exhibit and Artists’ Reception—a multi-media presentation that showcases enlarged prints of the students’ photographs; written descriptions that put the images into perspective and establish a sense of place; and live presentations documenting the students’ lives and cultures.

“Students understand prejudice and judgment, but not culture. This project gives them a way to examine local concerns using a more global perspective.”   

– Karla Thayer, Teacher

Pilot Project

2008 Photo Ethnography
Pilot Project photo

The pilot photo ethnography project was held at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines in 2008. Following an introduction to photography, the students were each handed a disposable camera and sent home to document their lives.   The resulting pictures were discussed with the class, edited, and ultimately combined into a group photo exhibit and DVD.  The project provided the students an avenue to talk about culture, gain a better understanding of one another, and achieve a better appreciation for their differences as well as the many things that they have in common.

Click the link below to read The Des Moines Register article about the Hiatt Project.

High School Project

For the past few years, the project has been offered at other Des Moines area schools.  In the fall of 2014, CultureALL began working with Des Moines Public Schools to incorporate the program into the high school sociology curriculum, with a pilot program at Lincoln and Hoover High Schools.  Student photos were exhibited at the Science Center of Iowa.  Here’s a video from that project:


For the 2015-2016 school year, the project was extended to include more high schools in the Des Moines Schools. The fall exhibition – held at Grand View University – featured work from students at East, Lincoln and North.  After an opening Artists’ Reception on November 21, the exhibition remained at Grand View until December 3, then transferred downtown – first  to the 6th Avenue Skywalk , then to the the Ruan Center, in the lobby of Banker’s Trust.  Some student photos and essays from the fall exhibition were also on display at the Science Center of Iowa, in conjunction with their exhibition on Race.    

The spring exhibition also opened at Grand View University, then transferred to Grinnell College, and is on dimply until August 10 at the Heartland Area Education Agency offices in Johnston.  The project was supported in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council – division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs – and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Project sponsors included Des Moines Public Schools, Banker’s Trust, and Grinnell College.

This spring, the project was given a new name: Zoom In On Culture – and a hashtag: #CultureALLZoom.Click the links below to view additional videos and photos from the 2015-2016 Des Moines Schools high school program.

Zoom In On Culture Project Media

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Bring Zoom In On Culture to Your School

Are you interested in bringing this program to your school?  Contact us to start planning a workshop!

“The concept of cultural diversity is too rich in importance to leave it to a textbook to define. Through activities that students are able to experience in CultureALL’s Photo-Ethnography classes, our young people can discover and document what it is that makes them unique, and what it is that they hold in common. Through this discovery, we can be hopeful that mutual appreciation and acceptance will follow.”

 – David Johns, Principal, Meredith Middle School


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