In March of next year, a local teacher will travel to Argentina with an unusual package: 64 photographs, all of them self-portraits taken by his students.
By the time Gordon Jack returns next August, he hopes to have formed a visual correspondence between his students and several dozen of their counterparts in Argentina, who will also start taking their own pictures.
Jack teaches English at the Freestyle Academy, a competitive multimedia program in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District. Students at Freestyle take photography, film, Web design and English classes in addition to their core curriculum.
Last month, Jack was granted a "Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching," a fellowship which sends teachers abroad to pursue projects or research. For Jack's project, he hopes to create a relationship between the American and Argentinean students using their artwork.
"I hope that Argentineans see American students are a lot more diverse than they think given their access to American television and movies," Jack said.
At the beginning of each school year, Freestyle Academy teachers have their students create a self-portrait using photography, film, Web design and writing. Jack is bringing photos from these projects to Argentina, and once there, he will "have students (each) select one that speaks to them on some level."
Throughout the semester Jack is in South America, students will send photos back and forth by mail. He hopes that, by the end of the project, students in North and South America will be able to write about the motives and symbols in their pen pals' work.
"Are there similarities between these groups of people who don't even know each other?" Jack asked.
Although he has planned out the basics of the project, Jack said he is still working on some of the logistics. At the beginning of the school year, he'll go to Washington, D.C. with other teachers who are Fulbright scholars, where he will learn about his stipend and the expectations set for him.
His family will travel with him to Argentina, which they chose so that he and his 5-year-old son can work on their Spanish. Jack said he has been establishing contacts in Argentina, and hopes to work with a diverse group of students in the local high school district from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.
Jack has high hopes for the use of photography as a communication tool. Like with writing letters, he says, with photography "You are responding to someone else, but you are also saying something about yourself."