Hedy Tung, Staff Photographer, and Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

From Mar. 2 to Jun. 29, the Yale Center for British Art and Lens Media Lab at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage will offer a five-month long program called “The View from Here” to help students in the greater New Haven area engage with photography and Yale’s campus.

“The View from Here” caters to students without access to arts programs or materials that were previously provided by their schools, many of which have shifted to virtual formats due to the pandemic. YCBA organizers described the program as an opportunity for students to “capture the world” by using easily accessible devices such as cellphones.

As part of the program, students will work with museum staff, Yale faculty and other professionals in the field of photography to learn about photographic history, science, practice and art. “The View from Here” is open to 11th and 12th grade students as well as first-year college students in the greater New Haven area.

“There is a famous saying in photography that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you,’” Paul Messier, program organizer and chair of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, said. “The ubiquity of the smartphone camera can make us think these are somehow lesser, but it’s not true at all. The basic premise of the class is that cellphone photography is fully legitimate — with deep continuity with the medium’s history but also packing new potential for innovation and imaginative expression.”

According to Martina Droth, YCBA’s deputy director and chief curator, “The View from Here” was inspired by a similar program, hosted by the Studio Museum in Harlem, that helps the public engage with art via photography. Droth described this experience as a “pilot program” for future endeavors at Yale.

James Vanderberg, educator for the YCBA’s school and access programs, noted that the program’s title, “The View from Here,” reflects the organizers’ aim to teach students how to take pictures of their individual worlds from their unique vantage points. To this end, organizers decided to center the course around the use of cellphones as photographic devices.

Yet Vanderberg said the team plans to ensure that the course is half analog and half digital, so students can explore older forms of photography alongside new techniques. After selecting students for the program, organizers sent packets to them that included materials to make pinhole cameras, cyanotypes and sun-prints. By incorporating these devices into the course, Droth hopes to contextualize the origins of modern photography.

“We’re always trying to connect what they’re able to experience with the history of photography and where [it] came from,” Droth said.

During the program, students will attend lectures, lessons and the occasional guest-speaker event. They will also have the opportunity to attend office hours with teachers. Droth said students will study different photographic styles including street photography, portraiture and documentary photography.

Droth hopes the course’s virtual medium will make it easier for students to attend the weekly lectures. She added that she suspects similar programs will employ a hybrid style in the future, by combining virtual instruction with hands-on experience that is not possible during the pandemic.

“I want to get the kids in the dark room — to actually look at collections and handle historical material,” Droth said.

The program’s creators hope it will expose students to not only photography, but also the world of art at Yale and beyond. Vanderberg said they hope to show students that having a career in art can go beyond “traditional” visual art and include work in documentary photography, collection photography and curation.

At the end of the program, students will display their art to the public. While Vanderberg and his colleagues are still thinking about the logistical possibilities, they are currently considering creating a website or projecting the photographs on the YCBA’s building.

Faculty members also hope the program will establish an ongoing relationship between Yale and the program’s students. Droth described the current students as the center’s “future visitors.”

But Messier hopes to focus on individual students’ career paths.

“Though I certainly hope this class strengthens the connection between the university and the New Haven community, I’m less focused on this as an explicit goal and much more interested in getting to know the students and help them on their path,” Messier said.

Both Droth and Vanderberg said they hope the program’s students remain in contact with their teachers — most of them YCBA staff — and use their mentorship as they apply to other art programs and internships in the future.

“The experience of interviewing these students was really powerful and a lot of them are coming from no real arts background in their schools,” Vanderberg said. “I think that this will really give them an opportunity to see what’s available in terms of not only looking at art, but creating art.”

 Annie Radillo | annie.radillo@yale.edu

Correction, March 4: A previous version of this article omitted James Vanderberg’s full name and role at the YCBA. He is an educator for the YCBA’s school and access programs. The story has been updated.