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“Beyond the Front Porch 2016” Features Work by Certificate in Doc Studies Grads


The Certificate in Documentary Studies program attracts Duke undergraduates to the Center for Documentary Studies from across the arts and sciences. Under the guidance of Nancy Kalow and Alex Harris, six seniors in the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 Documentary Capstone Seminars completed a final project as the culmination of their documentary studies classes.

An exhibition of the graduated seniors’ work, Beyond the Front Porch 2016, is on view in the University Gallery at the Center for Documentary Studies through October 1, 2016.

The six Duke University students in the Class of 2016 who graduated with a Certificate in Documentary Studies describe themselves and their work:


Isabella Barna
Bend, Oregon | Visual and Media Studies

I am an artist, designer, and storyteller whose combination of life experiences and academics has led me to create work influenced by the environment, human emotion, and an exploration of the Anthropocene. Working from these focal points, I have created images and digital media in an attempt to capture moments of the human condition deeply rooted in nature. I believe that my work ultimately illustrates the intersection of the self with contemporary culture and the environment. In my capstone project I depart from my previous style and subject matter and take a very personal approach to storytelling. I examine my past four years as a varsity athlete at Duke by collecting and editing my own story and the stories of my friends and classmates involved in Duke athletics. I am creating a portrait of sports that explores a different side to athletics than is usually told. This story relates to the broader themes of change, growing up, and adapting when things don’t go as planned.


Rinchen Dolma
Amdo, Tibet | International Comparative Studies

Early in my sophomore year, I fell in love with the art of storytelling. That was when I started to explore photography and documentary narrative. After taking many classes at CDS, I started to see the world through a more critical lens. I learned the crucial roles each of us plays in the lives of other people. My capstone project, Anywhere and Everywhere, is a video documentary project about the high prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) in the Tibetan refugee communities in India. Through the stories of patients and health workers at Delek Hospital, a Tibetan hospital located in northern India, I look into the day-to-day struggles of TB patients and their battles—despite limited resources—against the disease. This documentary shows that TB goes beyond its biomedical implications—its complexities are related to politics as well as other social, cultural, and economic conditions. Without knowing about those conditions—the real life situation of individuals—it is impossible to eradicate or minimize the rate of TB. Through my film, I hope to show that compassion and the intimate relationship between health workers and patients at Delek is one of the key factors that is helping to combat TB in the Tibetan community in India.


Katie Fernelius
Rancho Santa Margarita, California | Global Cultural Studies

The Center for Documentary Studies was my first home at Duke. Before I deliberately joined any groups, before I declared a major, before I covered my laptop with a deluge of stickers, I stumbled into a CDS classroom and into some of the most fulfilling relationships and passions of my life. In this home, I discovered that documentary work is a mode of inquiry that challenges my own conceptions of what is true and who gets to speak their truths. Engaging in documentary work has invigorated my intellectual journey in other disciplines, like literature and critical theory. During my time at Duke, I became invested in a question and the stakes of that question for different people around the world: Who is a citizen? For my capstone project, rhapsody, I traveled to seven different cities around the world and interviewed individuals about love, community, and global citizenship. I wanted to ask the same questions I’m asking in my classes, but to include those who are often excluded from these conversations. My final product is a mix of audio documentary work, critical theory, and personal essay.


Darbi Griffith
Dayton, Ohio | Biology/Pre-Med; Music minor

I had no idea what documentary studies entailed prior to coming to Duke, but it’s amazing how one class changed everything. My freshman seminar with Bill Bamberger introduced me to the realm of documentary studies, and I quickly developed my passion for documentary arts. I have expanded my knowledge of photography and journalism through classes at CDS and working with the student-run paper, The Chronicle. While I have studied various forms of documentary arts, I unexpectedly found myself completing my capstone project in an experimental genre, something very new for me. The Soapbox is an experimental documentary consisting of an audio collage of individual responses by a number of Duke undergraduates in response to the question, How are you? The collage weaves the monologues into dialogues of common themes and emotions; these dialogues play in the background to video of four dancers improvising in response to the monologues. The project reveals our complex thoughts and emotions behind our typically rote responses and creates a dance of voices and movement that comes close to the chaos of emotions we truly feel. I’d like to thank all of my CDS instructors—John Biewen, Bill Bamberger, Nancy Kalow, Susie Post-Rust, Katie Hyde, and Alex Harris—for sharing their knowledge of the documentary tradition.


Betsy Mansfield
Ann Arbor, Michigan | Biology; Certificate in Marine Science and Conservation Leadership

I realize now that I was unbelievably naïve when I first came to Duke. I thought I knew what to expect, but I had no idea what was to come during the next four years. I entered with a love of photography and a passion for people and their stories, but hadn’t made a connection between the two. Little did I know how much time I would dedicate to merging these two interests through the Certificate in Documentary Studies program at CDS. I began my journey into the exploration of documentary studies based on a suggestion by one of my first-semester professors, Charlie Thompson. I continued to develop my own focus on documentary photography. Through my CDS courses, I have been able to translate into images and words the stories I hear and the events I observe. I’ve come to better understand people while also understanding more about myself, which has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the program. In my final capstone project, Musical Memoirs, I explored how each person’s favorite song affects their emotions and is tied to specific memories. Through photography and interviews, I was able not only to explore important moments in other people’s lives, but also to think about how music affected, and still affects, my own life. The culmination of my capstone project was a website that combines both visual and audio components and allows for the exploration of other people’s stories while reflecting on our own life’s playlist.


Sophie Turner
Los Angeles, California | Visual and Media Studies; Women’s Studies

I fell in love with the visual storytelling power of photography in high school, and the classes I have taken over the last four years at CDS have deepened and intensified my interest in the documentary arts. My coursework and my involvement in the fellowship program at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival have transformed my interest in photography into a passion for all things documentary. For my capstone project, I set out to debunk the myth of “effortless perfection,” the pressure that plagues so many young women at Duke to be smart, attractive, fit, and popular without visible effort. I created a series of intimate portraits of young women getting ready for bed at night in the privacy of their own rooms. By creating a body of work that features these women free from makeup, fashion, and the superficial elements that perpetuate the illusion of perfection, I hope to show the beauty and value in our essential selves.  

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