Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History and Community is an annual, eight-month program in which New York high school students explore history and community through photography. Since the program’s founding in 2001, the James VanDerZee (1886–1983) archives—housed at The Studio Museum in Harlem—have been the primary catalyst for the students’ critical reflections on the representation of culture and community. Now in its twelfth year, the program and exhibition continue to be impassioned considerations of VanDerZee’s timeless themes, and testaments to the Studio Museum’s commitment to young, emerging artists.
In Illuminations, the 2012 Expanding the Walls artists celebrate and critique contemporary culture, and explore various definitions of self at a key moment in each of their lives. The group investigates the formal and conceptual possibilities of photography, drawing on a wide range of technical effects, investigating qualities of light and color, and using theatrical lighting and staging to manipulate the scenes they depict. The works in the exhibition reflect the specific concerns and interests of each artist, including teen culture and social life, neighborhood and high school communities, the bonds of family, and the natural and urban environments that compose the landscape of New York. Many of the artists also emphasize themes of individuality and vulnerability as they transition into adulthood, making pictures that reveal honest interpretations of their everyday lives.