In the Spring of 2001 I collaborated with a group of high school students at the Thurgood Marshall Academic High School in Hunter’s Point. This neighborhood is an industrial
lower-income area on the southern side of
San Francisco, often a starting point for new immigrant families. It is incredibly multi-cultural; a majority of the students I worked with were first and second generation immigrants from such places as Samoa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and China.
In order to encourage the recognition of ‘the individual’ within this inner city public school environment, we engaged in a project that explored ‘Identity.’ I asked the students to consider their sense of self within several contexts. How do you describe yourself? Who are your role models? Which people in your life reinforce your sense of identity and how? How do you think others perceive you? How do you want to be seen and represented?
The portrait sessions were collaborations between the students and myself. Using a 1930’s Crown Graphic 4 x 5 camera and Polaroid type 55 film allowed us to create a positive and negative within minutes of taking the picture. The students were able to see their photographs immediately and make decisions about their poses, expressions, etc.
We explored the many ways identity is expressed. As an assignment, we imagined what an archeologist uncovering their selected personal items in 100 years from now would figure out about them. Collecting and arranging belongings into a photographic still-life became a story-telling device; a way for each teen to express her or his identity.
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