8th grade students from the Arts Based School in Winston-Salem visited Dispatches and created a video along with several art projects inspired by iO Tillett Wright, Tomas Van Houtryve, and other featured artists
How We Do It and Why
By Mary Siebert
"Photography means writing with light." Diana Greene
Art teacher Elizabeth Gledhill and visiting artist Diana Greene (film maker, writer, photographer)
have developed a congenial and mutually inspiring partnership in teaching, after three years of
collaboration on complex, integrated middle school projects. This year, Ms. Greene created a new project
for eighth graders, which she titled Text + Context. It was inspired in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis
Reporting; an organization which partnered with SECCA to extend outreach to schools with a collection of
artistic responses to the news by artists and photojournalists, titled Dispatches. (A free exhibit, at SECCA
through February 19)
As is typical of any Diana Greene project, the expectations for students were rigorous. Research,
interview preparation, note-taking, map-reading, and synthesis of material were assigned and overseen
with care. And as is typical of Ms. Gledhill, the artistic quality and embodiment of the cross-curricular
topics in the culminating artwork are rich and beautifully executed. (Also a free exhibit, at the ABS 7 th
Ms. Greene thinks thoroughly through the line of a project from the standpoint of the student's
experience, delivering teaching through observation and real-world immersion. Her questions encourage
the formation of intelligent opinions, and her resources are deeply vetted, varied, and challenging.
The "Multi-Platform Bibliography" provided by Ms. Greene for students' research included video of T.V.
clips, interviews with journalists, documentaries about photographers, and articles about the use of social
media, selfies as self-portraits, homelessness in our area, the changes in the local tobacco industry…it's
an engaging collection of ideas and information.
Eighth graders were introduced in art class to the work of daring photojournalist Tomas van Houtryve,
whose work is featured in the SECCA exhibit. Van Houtryve entered North Korea incognito twice to
photograph the region, and has published unparalleled images of several other closed Communist
countries. His SECCA work explores the disengaged dangers of drone warfare. Students researched van
Houtryve's award-winning work, learning what drives him, analyzing the composition of his photography,
and considering the power of photojournalism.
Next, the students visited SECCA, where they met and interviewed van Houtryve, who was visiting as
a guest of the Pulitzer Center project. One student asked "Why are you a journalist?" His answer:
"Because I don't trust what I read in the papers, I want to see it with my own eyes. … My purpose is just
to add truthful information and open people's eyes to things, and make them break down their
stereotypes, or learn about things that they didn't know at all. So, I'm just trying to expand what we know
in a way that's as accurate as possible." They asked: "Do you have an agenda when you choose a
subject?" He replied that if he sets out with an agenda, he will see only the things that support that
agenda. "Most of my projects just start with curiosity…but my curiosity is often based on things that
trouble me…that's often the fire that gets me curious, that something's wrong, something doesn't seem
Back at school, students worked with inventing captions, considering how just a few words positioned
next to a van Houtryve photo might guide the viewer's perception. These exercises met the goal of
SECCA's exhibit, which is designed to encourage viewers to stop, take time, go deep, and consider the
news instead of digesting it in rapid sound bites.
The 8 th graders reviewed photography basics: wide shot, medium shot, close-up etc. And they
examined maps, preparing for a walking field trip around the ABS area, where they would observe and
photograph their own environs, visiting the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, the Cardinal Kimpton Hotel,
and Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. I was lucky enough to join the students on this walk.
There were assigned roles for individuals: note-taker, photographer, interviewer, greeter. At each
location, there were conversations with a diverse group of people, from a homeless man in recovery, who
is working on his certification to be a barber, to Eric Tomlinson, DSc, PhD, chief innovation officer of
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and president of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. At the mission, we
saw the rescued groceries that were donated to provide meals, locked doors, and tidy, worn walls and
hallways. We visited the 2 nd -hand clothing store, where jeans were set aside for homeless teens who
spend the nights in the stairwells of their schools. We walked but a few blocks, to enter the sumptuous
Cardinal Kimpton Hotel, where a contrasting array of cookies and juice awaited the students, who were
taken on the gilded art deco elevator on a tour of the beautiful banquet rooms, meeting halls, and a
spectacular game room. From there we walked, surrounded along the way by new construction and
builders, to the sleek Innovation Quarter. Students learned about the heroic studies taking place there, to
discover cures for dangerous diseases.
Ms. Greene interviewed the students afterward, capturing their reactions to the trip on film. Far from
adult-style cynicism, the young people saw it all through receptive innocence. One student explained that
all three places have something in common: they all want to help people. The Mission helps homeless
people get their lives back together. The hotel helps people who are traveling, providing a nice place to
work and rest. And at the Innovation Quarter, they are trying to help people get well.
After reviewing their experiences, the students created two artistic works in response: a personal
collage landscape meant to capture a sense of place and reflecting their visits to the locations near the
school. According to Ms. Greene, they were "creating visual meaning…mapping their identity in the
context of downtown Winston-Salem, inspired by artists who exhibited works in Dispatches." They also
each sat for a vividly lit photographic self-portrait. The portraits are grouped together, around captions
students crafted together, to reflect who they are as a community. The works are on exhibition now, on
the entry gallery walls at the 7 th Street building.