Through this layered photography project, students were encouraged to explore connections to historic American art and re-envision new roles for themselves as art viewers and artists. To introduce our project, I explained to students that we’d be visiting the American galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where most of the artworks were made by colonial Americans—many from our city! We wondered what other similarities we might share with these early American artists or the subjects of their portraits.
Starting with a Museum Visit
To introduce our project, I explained to students that we’d be visiting the American galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where most of the artworks were made by colonial Americans—many from our city! We wondered what other similarities we might share with these early American artists or the subjects of their portraits.
I explained to students that we’d be using iPads in small groups to photograph artworks of their choosing. This would be the first step of our project. I demonstrated how to frame the photo and the importance of holding the device steady to capture a clear image. To keep everyone on task, the assistant teacher and I held the iPads as students looked at artworks, and we loaned them out as needed.
Observing and Connecting
We continued our discussion about the American artists in the gallery as we looked at paintings, furniture, and sculpture. Students looked for artworks that “spoke” to them, either because of the style of the piece, who the artist was, or the subject matter. Some elements of identity surfaced naturally as we spoke, and others came up in secondary conversations. We talked about how identity could include age, gender, social class, race, religion, and disability.
Some students noticed a distinct lack of representation in some of these areas, a major flaw in many museum collections. As they found artworks they connected to, they photographed them. (This step of the project could easily be replaced with a research component in which students discover artwork they connect to and download or screenshot an image to work with for the remainder of the project.) Most students quickly connected to portraits, but a few chose landscapes, furniture pieces, or sculptural works. Each student took two or three photos to choose from.
With their pictures on the iPads, students continued to collaborate to decide which pictures to work with, sharing with each other why they had chosen certain artworks and what parts of their identities overlapped with the images.
Entering the Art
It was time for students to truly step into their photos. We dimmed the lights and connected the devices to a digital projector. Students’ adept fingers zoomed in and out of the photos, playing with scale. When the perfect size was determined, the original photographer climbed into the projection to become the subject of this hybrid artwork, and a classmate would take a series of photos.
Once again, students selected the best photograph, which could be lightly edited and cropped for printing. These were saved with each student’s name. While students waited their turn, they painted and decorated a frame that would later display their printed photo.
The photographs resulting from this process are engaging and intriguing to look at. In many, the student as subject is quite evident, and in others the student is a more discreet component of a composition. In each piece, the student was able to make a connection to American art.
Sue Liedke teaches at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. SusanLiedke@gmail.com
Connecting: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to make art.
Art teachers incorporate technology and new media into their lessons. Young students become subjects of historical American artworks through digital projection, elementary students create outer space-themed LED circuit-enhanced drawings, middle-school students research the art of printmaker Barbara Jones-Hogu and design posters with powerful messages, high-school students digitally illustrate food recipe layouts, and more.