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K-12 Photo Ed History

K-12 Photography Education: An Overview

As photography moved to center stage in the art world over the decades 1970-2000, photography education in the United States and elsewhere accompanied its rise to prominence. Once considered unworthy of formal study, photography since 1970 has entrenched itself solidly in college, university, art-school and continuing-education curricula everywhere.

Lucia Moholy, portrait of László Moholy-Nagy, 1925

Lucia Moholy, portrait of László Moholy-Nagy, 1925

Less systematic and less widespread by far has been photography education for younger students, those in the K-12 grades. Despite Moholy-Nagy’s famous warning that “the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,” and notwithstanding all the evidence that our culture depends increasingly on visual communication through lens-based imagery, photography education for children and adolescents has yet to become a pedagogical staple in our national school systems. As of the last year of the twentieth century, only a few scattered, inconsistent, and (for the most part) short-lived attempts have been made to integrate photography — and, more broadly, visual literacy — into the basic curriculum of K-12 education in either public or private schools anywhere in the U.S.

Nonetheless, during this same period, a number of educational initiatives along these lines emerged in the volunteer and/or non-profit sector. Often instigated and funded by photographers working through alternative photography and art organizations or community-based after-school and summer programs, these experiments too have proved intermittent, inconsistent, and often brief. Nonetheless, some of them have survived for some time, and the strength of the impulse toward the creation of such opportunities for youth is evidenced by the remarkable number of such projects, past and present, and the regular initiation of new ventures sharing this common purpose.

In effect, these various trial programs constitute a collective if uncoordinated experiment in the potentials of photography as a significant component of K-12 education. Some of the in-school programs, and many of the alternative-organization projects, targeted minority, inner-city, and at-risk youth, thus comprising one of the most direct efforts to reach those population sectors with visual education. Yet, surprisingly, outside of their immediate geographic area little attention has been paid to most of these projects. And the movement as a whole — which is national, and, indeed, international in scope — remains unacknowledged as such. In fact, no serious study has yet been undertaken of this far-flung grass-roots educational effort and its 35-year trajectory.

The New Eyes Project proposes to rectify these oversights by pursuing and achieving the following goals:

  • to create a network of organizations and individuals currently engaged in such efforts, and to facilitate synergistic interaction among them via internet projects, conferences, and other methods;
  • to identify notable past projects along these lines, and those responsible for them, in order to celebrate and honor and learn from past efforts, and also to construct a history of this movement and draw on the expertise of previous workers in this area;
  • to consolidate the literature of this movement — accounts of such projects, essays on the relevant pedagogy, course outlines and assignments, and more — so as to produce handbooks, monographs, tutorial aids, bibliographies, and other materials necessary for research about this movement and the furtherance of current and future educational projects of this kind;
  • to produce a written and illustrated history of this movement in photography education, in book form and as a CD-ROM;
  • to produce exhibitions and publications — in both printed and online/CD-ROM formats — that will help bring this movement to the attention of a wider public and also make the photographic work and achievements of its young participants available to a much wider audience;
  • to encourage the establishment of a permanent archive dedicated to collecting and making accessible for study the materials generated by defunct projects of this kind, some of which has already been lost and much of which is at risk of disappearing if not systematically gathered and preserved.

— A. D. Coleman

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