Please click on links within the lessons to view and download resources.Lesson One: Harlem as an African American Community
- Students will understand that communities, both past and present, are a composite of many elements.
- Students will use primary sources to explore the history of Harlem as an African American community.
- “The Wealthiest Negro Colony in the World,” The New York Times, September 2, 1917.
- Manhattan Bus Map
- “Harlem’s Shifting Population” chart from “An Affluent, White Harlem?” Gotham Gazette, August 2008. http://old.gothamgazette.com/graphics/2008/08/HarlemDemoChart.jpg
- Using a Manhattan Bus Map (http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/manbus.pdf), have students work in pairs to identify Harlem’s location. Challenge them to outline what they consider the boundaries of the community and compare against the boundaries as defined by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/buyers/nychome-neighborhoods-manhattan-harlem.shtml).
- In groups, have students read the New York Times article “The Wealthiest Negro Colony in the World.” As they read, have students underline aspects of the area that would foster a strong community. Discuss what surprised them in the article, what they think has changed in Harlem between then and now, and what has remained the same.
- Distribute copies of “Harlem’s Shifting Population” chart. Students should analyze the chart to recognize trends in population changes over the 20th century in Harlem and New York City. Have students hypothesize about what factors may have contributed to these changes in preparation for the next class.
- Students will be able to describe aspects of strong communities and describe features of Harlem as an African American community in the early 20th century.
- Students will understand that the overall and the black population in Harlem grew significantly and rapidly in the first half of the 20th century followed by gradual decline and will hypothesize about changes in the community that may have contributed to these demographic shifts.
- Through Vergara’s photographs, students will investigate Harlem in the 1970s-80s as a case study of urban decline in that era.
- Students will understand the value of photographs as a documentary historical source.
- “In Last Decade, Leaders Say, Harlem’s Dreams Have Died,” New York Times, May 1, 1978.
- A selection of Vergara photographs from the 1970s and early 1980s
- Exploring Historical Images worksheet
- Lead a brief class discussion asking students to recall aspects of the early 1900s Harlem community they read about in the New York Times article in the previous lesson. Remind students of the population shifts in Harlem over the course of the 20th century and have them share out their hypotheses about why those changes may have taken place.
- Distribute and read “In Last Decade, Leaders Say, Harlem’s Dreams Have Died,” asking students to underline potential problems in the community in the late 1970s.
- Break class into groups. Distribute one Vergara photograph from the 1970s or early 1980s per group and the Exploring Historical Images worksheet. They should discuss the photo together, complete the worksheet individually, and then share their answers to questions 5-7 with their fellow group members.
- Culminating activity: Compare and contrast Harlem in 1910s/20s with Harlem in 1970s/80s. Students should write a newspaper article outlining how Harlem changed from the early to late 20th century and why. They may include a paragraph with suggestions to reinvigorate the community.
- Students will be able to explain how Vergara’s photographs depict urban decline.
- Students will be able to describe factors that contributed to the decline.
- Students will conduct close studies of series of photographs by Vergara that depict changes in Harlem from the 1970s through the early 2000s to understand how communities change and grow over time.
- Students will understand the importance of recording the present to preserve history.
- Image study carousel. In small groups, students examine one series of rephotography photos at a station for five minutes and take notes on specific similarities and differences in each location. Groups rotate and repeat until each group has visited each series of photographs. Students then create a list of themes/foci they noticed among the photographs and relate them back to defining and documenting a community. They should brainstorm why they think Vergara chose to photograph these places.
- Students should select one series of rephotography to focus on and should write a caption for the images as if they hung next to each other in a museum. The caption text should highlight the important aspects of each image and how the images illustrate change in the environment in Harlem in the latter portion of the 20th century.
- Individually, have students write an artist statement for Camilo Jose Vergara, outlining what they think Vergara’s intentions were and the meaning he hopes viewers make of his photographs.
- As a class, discuss the below statement by Vergara below, highlighting the ways in which the built environment affects the individuals who live there and the community as a whole, and how individuals affect the environment and community. Guide students to understand the importance of documenting the present for future historians.
My work asks basic questions about cities such as what was this city like in the past, who lives in it and uses it now, and what are its current prospects? I also try to see how residents shape their city as they respond to high levels of crime, how they find ways to make a living in places where there are not many jobs, how they come together in churches, and how families help each other to find work, improve their dwellings, and give support to those in need. Also of interest to me are the ways the culture of residents is expressed in food, fashions, home décor, signs, and murals; and how the conditions inside public institutions and buildings such as housing projects, public schools, post offices and health centers reinforce the inequalities of American cities. Using insights from a variety of disciplines including ethnography, history, and archeology, I uncover patterns shaping the nation’s poorest and most segregated post-industrial cities.
- Students will be able to describe specific ways in which the built environment in Harlem changed between the 1970s-early 2000s.
- Students will be able to describe how these changes may have affected the community in Harlem.
- Students will recognize Vergara’s work as important documentation of history.
- By examining Vergara’s photographs, students will learn about the elements of composition in photography and how photographers like Vergara use these elements as guidelines to create compelling images.
Resources you will need are referenced below and found under “Tools for Teachers”:
- Visual Glossary of Elements of Composition in Photography
- Vergara’s Photographs from “Harlem: The People” and “Harlem: The Place”
- Step 1: Introduce the class to the concept of photographic composition: the compelling selection and arrangement of subjects within a photograph. Have students look at a set of Vergara’s photographs, each image reflecting one of the elements of composition in photography (Refer to Teacher’s Visual Glossary of Elements of Composition in Photography). For each element, ask students to discuss why such a composition would create a compelling photograph (i.e., adds excitement, leads or focuses the viewer’s eye, atypical view or eye-catching, etc.)
- Step 2: In small groups, have students examine the photographs from the exhibition Harlem: The People and Harlem: The Place. Using Vergara’s photographs, ask students to create their own Visual Glossary of Elements of Composition in Photography, identifying strong examples of the elements.
*Note: Photographers, including Vergara, usually include more than one element of composition in their photographs. Often times one element will be stronger than the others.
- Students will create their own Visual Glossary of Elements of Composition in Photography using Vergara’s photos demonstrating their ability to analyze the composition of a photograph and their understanding of how these elements create compelling images.
- Research the work of artists that inspired Vergara: Giovanni Batista Piranesi, Jacob Ruisdael, Helen Levitt, Walker Evans, Eugene Atget, and Claude Monet. Create another Visual Glossary using work by some of all of these photographers. – Or write an annotated photographic essay.
- Using cardboard viewfinders to understand lining up a “shot”, students will learn the importance of looking closely through the frame in order to give the image and its edges a purpose.
- Step 1: As a class, introduce students to the term “viewfinder”. Discuss the purpose of a viewfinder. Then with a cardboard viewfinder, demonstrate how to hold it with an outstretched arm, closing or covering one eye, and moving your body and/or the viewfinder around as you explain what you’re seeing. Stop moving when the hole of the viewfinder is framing the view with the exact composition desired, no more, no less.
- Step 2: Have students practice individually using a viewfinder in the classroom or the school. Ask them to make quick sketches of views they’ve composed, choosing and identifying elements of composition in photography as guidelines.
- Step 3: As a class, share reflections on the process of using a viewfinder. Ask students if they discovered anything that they didn’t see before while focusing their view.
- Step 4: Review the homework assignment and explain a) issues regarding rights to privacy, b) the need for student photographers to explain the photographed subjects, and c) the need to obtain at least verbal permission before photographing a person’s face or groups that are fewer than four subjects.
- Using cardboard viewfinders, students experiment lining up images of strong compositions and investigate the views they have framed through sketching. This demonstrates their ability to control the viewfinder and their understanding of how to create compelling images with relation to the frame.
- With a camera of your choice, practice taking photographs on one street in your community. For each subject, experiment with the viewfinder to capture at least three different photos of the subject, each emphasizing a different element of composition. Practice interviewing subjects and asking them for permission to photograph.
- Students will gather evidence on the history of the community in which they live or attend school in preparation for completing a photo documentary of that neighborhood.
- Each student will decide to focus on the neighborhood in which s/he lives or attends school. S/he may choose to focus on a small number of blocks or a particular section of that neighborhood.
- Direct students to conduct broad research on the history of that community to find out when the particular part of the city was built and when it experienced major changes in environment, infrastructure, and/or population.
- Students should then choose to focus on a particular chapter of the neighborhoods history into which they can conduct in-depth research. Direct students to reliable research resources such as the digital collections of the New-York Historical Society, nytimes.com, the New York Public Library, Gotham by Mike Wallace and Ted Burrows, and Empire City edited by Kenneth Jackson. Particular neighborhoods may have more specific reference books or institutions students can investigate.
- Students should write brief essays about the history they uncovered about their neighborhood and time period. How did the community evolve? Why do they think it changed? What surprised them? What influences of the past do they suspect can be seen in the built environment or community of that neighborhood today?
- Students will have compiled research on a neighborhood in a particular moment in history.
- By reflecting on the photographs they have already taken and the research they have conducted, students will learn how to develop a theme for a final body of work that depicts a story of the community in which they live in or attend school. They will also develop a plan for capturing this theme in photographs and captions.
- Step 1: In small groups, students share photographs from Lesson 5’s homework assignment. Ask students to discuss compositional elements and themes they notice.
- Step 2: Explain to students that they will be asked to create a final body of work of photographs and captions that tell a story of the community in which they live or attend school. Explain that having a theme will help their body of work be cohesive visually and in terms of content. (For examples of themes refer to those found in Vergara’s photographs.) Students can work individually or in small groups to select a theme for their final body of work. Ask them to consider the information they researched about the neighborhood during a particular time of history.
- Step 3: Students will individually develop a brief plan for systemically photographing elements of their communities and for taking notes that will eventually inform their captions. Consider the following:
- Sequence (i.e., downtown to uptown, East to West, etc.)
- Archiving (i.e., photograph street corner signs to note location, write notes of observations and interviews, etc.)
- Permissions (talk to subjects first, interview, photograph, get contact info/release form)
- Students will be prepared to document their own communities in ways that reflect both their research and their understanding of the aesthetics of composition. This demonstrates their ability to analyze the work they have done thus far in order to create a body of work that tells a story.
- Photograph your community with your theme in mind. Continue experimenting with the camera’s viewfinder, emphasizing different elements of photographic composition. Take notes for your captions, interview subjects, and ask for permission to photograph them when necessary.
- Students will learn how to narrow down their photographs and write captions and an artist statement in order to compose a cohesive, final body of work that depicts a story of their own communities.
- Step 1: As a class, review what is meant by a body of work. (Stress unified theme and a consistency and cohesiveness in content and aesthetics)
- Step 2: In small groups, students look at photographs from the homework assignment and narrow down choices for a final body of work (about 10 to 20 photographs). Students sequence the selected photographs in such an order that their body of work tells a story from beginning to end.
- Step 3: As a class, discuss what a caption is and how word and image can be a powerful combination. Examine various captions that Vergara wrote to explain that captions are a part of the storytelling and that there are different types and lengths of captions. Highlight that captions:
- should give viewers information that they should know but cannot already see from the photograph alone;
- should be concise without too many unnecessary details and adjectives;
- can be used to intrigue the viewers by adding information that brings the image to life.
- Step 4: As a class, discuss what an artist statement for the final body of work might include:
- The community, theme(s), and story depicted;
- Goals at the onset of the project (“What do you want to explore, attempt, or challenge?”);
- Decisions that were made and how they were made;
- How the final body of work is connected to student’s life experiences.
- Students will have selected a set of photographs and will be able to write captions and an artist statement that altogether compose a final body of work. This demonstrates their ability to write informative/explanatory texts that examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- For your final body of work, write captions for the selected photographs and an artist statement (150 words maximum).
- As students exhibit their work online and reflect as a class in a critique, they will learn how to exhibit their work digitally and how to give and receive constructive feedback.
Lesson 9 Pre-Activity
- Review the “How to Submit” Page of the Vergara’s Harlem site with students. Ask students to follow the directions in order to post their work online.
- Step 1: As a class or in small groups, students use digital media to present their final bodies of work, explaining the research they conducted and choices made throughout the project.
- Step 2: Classmates might comment on how the presenting student’s work successfully tells a story, is cohesive in content and aesthetics, and achieves other goals of the project. They might also respectfully suggest ways to improve the aforementioned points.
- Using speaking and listening skills and digital media, students will publicly demonstrate their learning and work. They will also be able to see their work in the context of others and welcome the feedback to those who view it.