In these next photos, children are driving cars. Either they are playing on cars that were bought or found, or they use their imagination. These children are very creative. - Anele Bokuva
We’ve all heard the adage “every picture tells a story”. Every story has details and characters that flesh out the plot. Every viewer brings to the image their personal interpretation of the narrative based on what they may or may not already know about the subject. Like the book cover that catches our eye, can we assume to know the story without reading the pages?
Fourth, fifth and sixth grade students visiting the Apha exhibition this week spent time considering how the objects within the photographs help us to interpret the story being presented. We looked at Nwabisa Nake’s photograph with all labels and captions for the section covered. When stripped down to basic terms, such as labeling, we are forced to purge any preconceived ideas about what may be going on in the picture. Responding to the prompt “What do you see? What do you notice?” without replying with a storyline, the students struggled to answer the questions. They offered fully articulated, wonderfully imaginative tales at first. Slowly they reigned in their expressive language and learned to train their minds to read the photograph for the visual clues layered throughout. We started from the ground up, as though building a storyboard, until we had all of our pieces spread out on the table. The students were then asked to provide a story based on the information they collected. The results included wedding, performance (comedian, karaoke), birthday and christening (girl’s) scenarios. All students assumed the photograph represented a special occasion (clothing, decoration) and were surprised to learn that it displayed a weekly church service. The students were even more shocked to learn that the pink ribbons did not signify a celebration of the feminine, but rather that pink is a universal color. And further still, the teen boys consider it macho! We examined the role of bringing our prior knowledge with us into the viewing space. While worthwhile, it is not absolute. We can learn a lot about cultural standards by opening our eyes.
The science of photography allows for a portion in an evolving story to be captured in less than a second. The viewer knows nothing about what happened prior to or after the photograph was taken. The students were asked to select an image and create a story that happened before or after that moment in time. Fourth and fifth grade visual arts children set to task with paper and pencil while Katharine Hill’s sixth graders hammered out storylines on their computers. The results are thrilling and entertaining. Please visit them here.
The Shen Gallery has been bustling with activity these last two weeks. First, second and third graders have been exploring the exhibition through the lens of “play”. We have been looking at the Playground series and discussing the way that we amuse ourselves – after all, everybody loves to play.
Sometimes, children do not have much to do. Many choose to just relax until the sun goes down. They sit on the grass and tell jokes or stories. They may tell what happened to them, like why they have a scar, why this and that, who and when. - Nwabisa Nake
When looking at the photograph of boys reclining in the grass enjoying their conversation, we talked about how we also like to stretch out and chat on the grass with our friends. Anele Bokuva’s image of a boy playing with a handmade toy inspired a lively discussion about the toys we make from objects that were not intended to be toys, such as the paint roller in the photograph. Students enthusiastically shared tales of elaborate constructions made from cardboard boxes, packing peanuts, duct tape and the like. Thank you FreshDirect for inspiring scores of New York kids to make ships, castles, and vehicles (just to name a few).
With the message of sharing our community as the Joe Slovo photographers did, students were asked to create their story of play. They set to task with pencil and paper and considered how they wanted to express their ideas by drawing and, for some, writing. Please visit the gallery page to see their work.
This woman did not say “I am not working so I have to stay home and do nothing.” She is selling things from her home and still taking care of her child. - Nwabisa Nake
The last week of December, Byron Tomas brought his 7th and 8th grade classes in to the gallery to enhance their unit on power and privilege. Prior to their visit, students were assigned relevant readings and engaged in discussions about the structure of power.
Students were introduced to the exhibition as a photographic autobiography. Using their eyes to build knowledge about the community presented, students were asked to simply state what they saw thus building a visual vocabulary (see image). Rich discussions emerged from the process of looking at the image and eventually seeing the narrative within. After examining Nwabisa Nake’s image as a group, the class broke up into small groups or as individual viewers seeking to cull information from the images. They were asked to take notes with the mindset of a journalist: curious, objective and observant.
John Lombardo and Eric Polite joined us for our second day in the gallery. Mr. Lombardo shared anecdotal information and answered the numerous questions from the crowd. Mr. Polite lead the group in a dynamic activity asking the students to declare affinity with an image based on emotive directives. He asked us all to stand by the image that represents love, for example, and state why. The result of reflecting on half a dozen prompts in this manner was as profound and intimate as the exhibition itself.
On the evening of December 7th, the Shen Gallery packed its parameters for the opening of Apha (here): Documentary photography by children in South Africa. So great was the interest of these remarkable photographs, that the mass of attendees spilled out into the adjacent spaces. Teachers, students, parents, friends and participants of the community service program working in Joe Slovo shared insight and curiosity about the images. Co-curator Elizabeth Eagle suggested that John Lombardo create a short documentary of the photographers talking about their work. The result is a stunning and inspiration discussion about the empowerment creativity provides. Enjoy the film for the first time or revisit it repeatedly on YouTube.
David Ready chronicled the event for the Packer community. Take a few minutes to read his article here.