Students Offer a Snapshot into Their World in the Everson’s Way I See It Exhibition

The Everson displays street photography created by middle school students in conjunction with Syracuse University's Photography and Literacy Project.

Children have always done well with Helen Levitt. They were often featured prominently in the late photographer’s work and the child’s play the photos captured are celebrated as the height of creativity. This time children will be on the other side of the lens now as the Everson Museum decided to partner with Syracuse University’s Photography and Literacy PAL Project, which allows middle school students to document what they see in response to Levitt’s work featured in the Helen Levitt: In the Street exhibition at the Everson this month.

Photo: Anna Gibertini
Student photographer Aniya Corgwell catches a dog mid-pant as it lounges on the hood of a car in the sun.

The student exhibition titled The Way I See It features the photography of students from Edward Smith School, the Institute of Technology at Central and the South West Community Center in conjunction with the PAL Project.

Inspired by Levitt, a notable New York street photographer known for her beautiful tableaus of New York street life, the students channeled Levitt’s observant eye and ability to encapsulate everyday interactions by capturing the ordinary people and places that intrigued, moved or defined them.

The PAL Project sets out to do the same, provide a forum for expression that allows students to not only connect with their inner selves, but also their greater communities. Directed by Syracuse University professor, Stephen Mahan, PAL was established as part of Syracuse University’s Coalition of Museum and Art Centers in conjunction with the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Edward Smith School art teacher and wife of PAL Project director, Mary Lynn Mahan emphasizes why such a project is essential to kids in this community. “Kids in our society are naturally marginalized. This is a way to have their voices heard,” Mahan said, “Kids surprise me every time we give them a camera. I was stunned by their natural ability.”

Mahan makes an interesting point. Children’s insight is often looked over as people often prefer the points of view held by adults, but Levitt didn’t do that. She purposefully put children front and center in a good portion of her work, capturing their vulnerability in mundane, everyday scenes along with everyone else who swept across her lens.

Kimberly Griffiths, curator of education at the Everson, said that such experiences positively impacts students’ relationship to art. “They have something to say from their perspective, and it allows them to experience art in a positive way when they can see their work in a museum,” Griffiths said.

Although they offer sophisticated angles on the world around them, there’s still something uniquely childlike about the work of these young students. It’s in the goofy facial expressions of friends and in the frozen snapshots of siblings. The child friendly urban spaces that often surround the subjects — skateboard parks, dinner tables and suburban sidewalks — showcase the point of view of these young artists and give a new meaning to looking at the world through innocent and fresh eyes.

The Way I See It exhibition runs until February 28. Tickets can be purchased at the Everson Museum front desk, and are $6 for students.



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