The life and work of Camillo Vergara presents educators with an opportunity to examine the connections between an individual’s personal story and the way that story can shape and influence one’s life work.

Camillo Vergara was born wealthy but by the time he was a teenager his family was poor.  Concerned relatives sponsored his education and he immigrated to New York at the age of 21. He attended college and studied sociology eventually obtaining a Masters’ Degree. But he never forgot what his life might have become without the support of his family and as an adult he found himself drawn to neighborhoods that were in decline.  He used his camera to capture how the built environment of a community changed from one decade to the next and through his lens revealed the social, cultural and practical elements of daily life in the process.  Vergara documented his observations through what he called “re-photography” in which particular locations were photographed over time, years apart.

Vergara’s Harlem, the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, is the inspiration for this website. It presents both a case study and a portrait of the Harlem community over time.  Similarly, the classroom project, designed for high school students, is divided into two components: first a study of Harlem and its history, and second, a mini-unit on photography that gives students a chance to document their own communities and teaches them to present their work in ways that reflect both their research and their understanding of the aesthetics of composition.

We invite you to participate in Vergara’s Harlem and share these images and Camillo Vergara’s story with your students.  Then go a little deeper and learn about Harlem’s history and which aspects Vergara captured in his photographs.  After your students have done this, you can send them off with cameras to collect their own images and tell their own community stories.  Finally, send us the best ones to post on our site for all to see.

We look forward to hearing from you and seeing your students’ work.


Click here for the link to the Classroom Project Guidelines and Lessons