Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

Until this past weekend, photography produced by 11 New Haven high school and college students was on display on the High Street exterior of the Yale Center of British Art. 

These students were the most recent cohort of a collaborative program between the Yale Center for British Art and the Lens Media Lab at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, titled “The View From Here: Accessing Art Through Photography.” After working together on a photography exhibition, Paul Messier, Pritzker Director of the Lens Media Lab and chair of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, and Martina Droth, YCBA deputy director and chief curator, decided to create a program through which students from local high schools and colleges could learn more about the art form. 

James Vanderberg, educator for high school, college, university and community outreach at the YCBA, told the News that the program was originally launched in 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Our goal was to create a program that would engage high school students in a meaningful, creative experience while they were home and isolated from friends and activities,” Vanderberg wrote. 

Inspired by the Studio Museum in Harlem’s program “Expanding the Walls,” program leaders built an innovative curriculum around digital images and their role in a world in which any cell phone owner can become the maker of pictures.

“The principle spark that made The View From Here different, and defined it, was that we were just going to lean into people’s smartphones,” Messier said. “I’ve always thought the smartphone camera is one of the most powerful instruments on the planet.” 

Emaan Naqvi, Untitled, 2022.

This year, the program took place in person for the first time. “Having everyone together helps to build bonds,” said YCBA photographer and instructor Robert Hixon. 

For four months this fall, 11 students from the greater New Haven area came together at the YCBA to share their passion for learning more about photography. 

“The program is built on three principles: technical understanding, looking at photographic material, and understanding photography as a career in both museums and beyond,” Vanderberg explained. 

The organizers shared how they wished for the course to offer resources to students that would help them achieve their goal of improving at their shared passion. 

Mia Coppola, a student in this year’s cohort, told the News how much she valued the guest speaker aspect of the program, describing how speakers “went through how they started working with photography and their experiences with meeting people and throughout their lives what influenced them to make their artwork.” As an aspiring wedding photographer, she felt compelled by the advice she received.

Mia Coppola’s work. Photos by Robert Hixon, courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

This power of art to foster community in a city like New Haven is exemplified by this program, organizers said. 

“A common thread that ran through both sessions is that students want to have an impact, whether it’s showing people the beauty that surrounds them in New Haven or working towards social justice,” Hixon said. “They want their images to make a difference here in New Haven.” 

Hixon and other instructors said they felt like they were not only teaching the students, but also learning from them. 

Through this program, a passion for photography allowed for people of all backgrounds to form bonds, according to Messier.

“Creativity belongs to everyone,” Messier said. “There are more and less creative people, I suppose. But it’s universally available.”

Ashlynn Topper, B.I.T.S (Beauty in the Struggle), 2022.

When asked what could have been done differently, Coppola responded, “It was such an amazing program that the only thing I would do is make it longer.”

“The View From Here: Accessing Art Through Photography” exhibition is available on the Yale British Art Center’s website. The photographs were also on view through April 3 on the High Street windows of the YCBA.

Correction 4/4: A previous version of this article misstated that a quote from Messier was written instead of said.