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While on a lecture tour in the fall of 2000, I spent some time in Seattle, on a leg of my trip organized by the estimable Walter Bodle, guiding light of Youth in Focus, an award-winning program for teaching photography to at-risk inner-city young people in that fine, damp city. Watching Walt and his dedicated crew at work with a cluster of excited, creative teens reminded me that this kind of grass-roots photo education took off in the 1960s.
There’s now close to half a century’s worth of collective, cumulative experiment in this approach to visual education, which has taken place not just all across this country but in fact all around the world. Yet you’ll find little published trace of any of that effort, and almost no reference to it in the literature of photo education specifically and visual education — a sad fact.
It struck me that the time might at last have come around for some project to distill the experience of those three decades plus — to consolidate the gains, assess the lessons, and seek to draw often isolated programs into a larger framework. With the 2005 Oscar for best Documentary Film going to Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski’s splendid Born into Brothels, which came out of the Kids with Cameras project, surely the moment has arrived to weigh what’s happened so far, and to plan what should happen next.
So I conferred with Nearby Café webmaster John Alley, whose day job has him teaching teaching photography in high school. In early 2006 we launched The New Eyes Project, a website intended to serve as a resource for everyone teaching photography to young people.
If you’re interested in this set of issues — and, of course, especially if, now or in the past (or in the future), you have had or expect to have any involvement in a program teaching photography to young people, at any age level and in any context — we’d like to hear from you. You can register yourself as a present or former K-12 photo-ed teacher or program director, and tell us about your program, at the New Eyes website. There you’ll also find readings, forums, links, and much useful material.
If you’d like to take part in the expansion of this site as a resource, contact me: adcoleman [at] k12photoed [dot] org. Much research remains to be done on the history of this important experiment in photo education. I’ll gladly confer with you about carving out a manageable chunk of that unexplored territory, and we can publish the results at the New Eyes site.
— A. D. Coleman