The young photographers in 2008's Expanding the Walls exhibition, Eye Notes, approached documentary art in a variety of ways as they presented their work alongside a selection of James VanDerZee’s classic Harlem portraits. Expanding the Walls is an eight-month, photography-based program that uses the VanDerZee archive as a springboard for conversation and art-making. Continuing the influential artist’s exploration of community, identity, history and culture, each of the 2008 participants examined their relationships to these enduring themes through subjects that range from retro kids, public housing and reenactments, to transracial relationships, memory and performing bodies.
Responding to the themes of reality and imagination, as well as publicity and privacy, implied by VanDerZee’s work, each Expanding the Walls participant shared a particular way of seeing. They reflected on the changes to photography’s social role since VanDerZee’s pre-digital time, and paused to think over their relationships to visual culture and image-making. In an age of camera-phone snapshots, ever-changing MySpace pages and homemade YouTube videos, these young creators carefully considered how images acquire meaning, move in virtual and physical space and can be reshaped by an active author. Using many techniques, including figuration, surrealism and abstraction, they offered personal truths and perspectives.
The participating artists in the 2008 program were Alani Bass, Michelle Figueroa, Sofia Flores, Ivan Forde, Chanelle Joseph, Christina Pardes, Christeen Penon, Nicole Rodriguez, Keisha Streeks, Tempestt Watson and, or course, James VanDerZee.
Expanding the Walls is supported by New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; Colgate-Palmolive, JPMorgan Chase Foundation; The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation; and Time Warner Inc.
Our deepest gratitude goes to Donna Mussenden VanDerZee for her continued support of the Studio Museum and the Expanding the Walls program.