New public art installation features large-scale, digital photographs by Syracuse City School District students
New public art installation features large-scale, digital photographs by Syracuse City School District studentsJuly 21, 2009Erica Blustesblust@syr.edu
“The Best Part of Us,” an installation of large-scale digital photographs by Syracuse City School District (SCSD) students from the Franklin Magnet School of the Arts and Fowler and Nottingham high schools, was recently mounted on the exterior of the Case Supply Building, 601 W. Fayette St., Syracuse. The installation, which was created and curated by photographer Stephen Mahan and sponsored by the Near Westside Initiative, can be viewed best by traveling north on West Street between Onondaga and West Fayette streets.
“The Best Part of Us” consists of 10 photographs, each measuring 48 x 64 inches, that are printed on vinyl and mounted with a protective covering. Organizers plan for additional photographs to be installed in September.
Mahan, who is also an instructor of art photography in the Department of Transmedia in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), believes that photography “levels the playing field” for students of every age and that handing them a camera and asking them to photograph themselves as well as their school community, families, and hopes and dreams fosters literacy and self-esteem and promotes tolerance and understanding in an increasingly diverse urban community.
“My interest is not so much teaching photography to kids-it is in sitting down and listening to what they have to say, building trust, letting them realize they have an amazing story to share, convincing them that others are interested in their story and using the camera as a tool to start the storytelling process,” says Mahan. “What the camera does is allow all kids equality in our project in the school environment. People have learning differences, and using the camera greatly diminishes or eliminates any of these differences. I know that our schools are filled with brilliant and creative kids who think they are not; it is my job to give them the tools to realize that they are.”
The Franklin Magnet School images were created by English as Second Language (ESL) students from Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Africa. Mahan worked with ESL teacher Janet Staub to teach the basics of digital photography to these students through a grant from the SCSD Educational Foundation and Light Work at SU. The project used the medium of photography to encourage relationships between ESL students new to the United States and their school community. Through the images they created, the students were able to communicate visually with their peers, teachers and members of the community.
At Fowler and Nottingham, Mahan taught photography with the assistance of SU students enrolled in the innovative course Literacy, Community and Photography (LCP), which is part of the LCP arts education program in VPA.
LCP encourages children to explore their worlds as they photograph scenes from their lives and then use these images as catalysts for verbal and written expression. The written component of the class was taught at Fowler by John Colasacco, professional writing instructor and writing consultant for the writing program in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), and at Nottingham by Michael Burkard, associate professor of creative writing at A&S.
LCP is an ongoing collaborative project between SCSD and SU under the auspices of the Partnership for Better Education, which uses learning communities as the framework for focused interaction between SU and the SCSD, and works to expose students to creative approaches to arts, literacy, science and technology, engineering and math. The LCP curriculum is housed in the Mobile Literacy Arts Bus (MLAB), which functions as a classroom, digital photography lab, art and poetry library and alternative gallery space.
For more information about the exhibition, contact Mahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.