Reflections on The Photograph as Language

April 22, 2010

aging woman's handsAs a first year student at Rollins College, I have come upon many opportunities during the short time that I’ve been able to call this campus my home. I am part of the pilot Rollins Plan as well as a work-study student for the Office of Community Engagement. This past semester I was enrolled in three service-learning courses that combined field experience and service with a traditional academic approach in order to prepare students to address the real-life needs of their own communities. These courses allowed me to integrate key concepts throughout the semester by learning similar ideas and themes, and connecting them to my overall understanding of community, environment and responsibility.

What originated as the work of Nancy Helm-Estabrooks, who advanced a method of speech therapy known as Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), developed into a partnership between Assistant Professor of Art at Rollins College Dawn Roe and Janet Whiteside, clinical instructor at UCF’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Following the success of a pilot project that took place in Asheville, NC in the summer of 2008, the service-learning class, “The Photograph as Language,” was offered for the first time at Rollins during the Spring, 2009 semester.To learn more about this course, visit

I remember when I first heard about this offering; it had come up in casual conversation with another student. As a psychology major, I was very interested in the opportunity to have hands-on clinical experience. However, I could only recall taking a couple art courses in high school. On a whim, I signed up for this course. In retrospect, I can say that I have gained a better appreciation of this most intrinsic of human capabilities - speech and a reverence for the individuals who put forth great effort every day of their lives to function in a very spoken world.

During our sessions, I have watched my client, J., struggle to find the right words to convey his thoughts and intentions. Through his frustration I can see that he genuinely wants to be in this workshop. He is quite capable with the camera and has consistently produced great images. Before his left hemisphere stroke, J. was one of the leading engineers for Lockheed Martin. Imagine waking up one day to find that nobody understands what you are trying to say? It is a common misconception that aphasia is a loss of intelligence. While aphasia is characterized by a loss of words, it does not affect an individual’s intelligence. One of our clients is a member of MENSA.

Our mission is to educate communities about aphasia and to help PWA (People with Aphasia) to achieve a greater quality of life. Despite everything, these individuals continue to live very full lives and the support that they receive from loved ones is a testament to human affection. For more information regarding this course, check out my personal blog at:

A variation of this course will be offered yet again in Fall 2010, however, it will be taught as part of a sophomore honors seminar and it will explore the connections between memory and photography.

To read more about my service learning experiences, please visit

- Anna Montoya
Class of 2013

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