High school photography in focus at Harlem’s Studio Museum

High school photography in focus at Harlem’s Studio Museum

New York high-school students explore community, history and life under lockdown in the first online edition of Expanding the Walls at the Studio Museum in Harlem

For the last 20 years, the Studio Museum in Harlem has nurtured the talents of a select group of New York high-school students with ‘Expanding the Walls’, an eight month photography-based programme that leads its participants to explore ideas of community, history and culture while learning technical basics.

Working with a diverse group of artist professionals, and using the work of photographer James Van Der Zee as a jumping-off point, the students participate in art workshops, discussion groups and excursions before producing and presenting a collective body of work.

It should be of no surprise that the end result of this year’s cohort has taken on a very different significance. When students could no longer gather with each other and their mentors, they had no option but to complete the programme remotely. This year’s exhibition, entitled ‘Hearts in Isolation: Expanding the Walls’, sees the programme’s 15 young creatives, who are aged between 15 and 18, capture glimpses of life in lockdown.

April Riley, new heights, 2020. Digital chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist

‘Community has always been a key pillar of the Expanding the Walls programme,’ says Thelma Golden, the museum’s director and chief curator. ‘This year, students and mentors faced an unprecedented set of new challenges that redefined that pillar. At a time when home can feel isolating, the programme created a critical space for community, and the camera became a tool for students to confront unexpected circumstances.’

Ranging from portraits and self-portraits to still-life compositions and everyday scenes in the home, the poignant images on display in the online exhibition reflect a vivid array of perspectives, styles and issues, while exuding a level of introspection and artistry that truly goes beyond the artists’ years. §

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