A couple of weeks ago, in a special section of the New York Times devoted to museums, Corey Kilgannon wrote a great piece about a yearly program called ‘Expanding the Walls’ at the Studio Museum in Harlem. This year, a dozen girls, all of them black or Hispanic and with no prior photographic experience (other than the point-and-shoot picture taking that is a part of everybody’s life), were given professional digital cameras along with the training needed to let them go forth in their communities to document their own lives and those of family, friends, and neighborhoods.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of such programs; in fact, they are probably in place in numerous communities throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. But two things caught my eye –
Expanding the Walls is based on the way the late James Van Der Zee approached his life’s work of photographing the people of Harlem in the 20th century. Van Der Zee (who died in 1983) came to wide renown only toward the end of his career, and the dignity he conferred on his subjects shows in all his images. So beyond the technical training the girls have received, they have been learning the direct connection between the photographs they are taking now and the pictures of Mr. Van Der Zee and other documentary photographers.
The other thing that drew my eye was the photograph at the top of the story. I looked carefully at the photo (by NYT staff shooter Marilynn K. Yee) and saw that the cameras in the hands of the girls in the photo are both Canon G11s. I have no way of knowing if the G11 is the only camera being used in the program, but it’s a wonderful choice.