Many of the photographs in the Teenie Harris exhibition are linked to audio recordings of people who knew Teenie and his work . This project could present new perspectives on history and how individuals and their everyday lives play an important role in understanding and exchanging ideas about history.
Have students find an older family member or person in the community. Ask them to interview that person about a selection of Teenie Harris images from a time when they were alive. Get their opinions and perspective of that time through the photographs. Ideally students should find people to talk to from a range of times (1930–70s) represented in Teenie Harris’s photographs.
Students could photograph the person and plot the new photographs and interviews along a historical timeline.
Make comparisons with Picturing the City photographs. Students can share their perspective on what’s happening today. Ask students to imagine being interviewed in the same way when they are older—what would they want to tell someone about what was happening “in their day”?
Share your findings with the class.
Document and share students’ current insights and opinions about the Picturing the City photographs. These ideas could be recorded using journals, writing prompts, audio recordings, or visual arts projects.
Teenie Harris documented over 40 years of his personal experiences and interactions with others through his photographs. You can make a small-scale version of his body of work and recognize the influence of one person over time. The photographers in Picturing the City documented the changes and people, places, and events around downtown Pittsburgh over three recent years (from 2007–2010).
Discuss what can be concluded from examining many photographs, as opposed to just one or two.
How can we document our own lives, and as artists, make these everyday occurrences interesting? What does it tell us about ourselves, our neighborhoods? The world?
How can studying the past and observing the present help us be more thoughtful about possibilities for the future?
Challenge your students to be observant of the people, places, and events around you for a short period of time (maybe a few days or a week). Different prompts could be used each week to narrow or adjust the focus for your students.
Ask your students to collect things that they find, including pictures, objects, and ideas. Have them make note of new things that they become aware of because of their observations. Ask them to share with others. What do they learn about each other through their collected observations, notes, objects, etc.?
The class could start a blog about these everyday events. As a collection, these reflections and findings become a body of work, like Teenie Harris’s body of work.
Category: History and the Everyday
, Formal elements
, Observation & interpretation
Students can create imaginative and historically based narratives, inspired by Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs. A combination of close observation and research on the people, places, events, and time period can produce relevant investigations.
- Select a photograph by Teenie Harris or a Picturing the City artist that interests them.
- Make a list of observations (who, what, where, etc.) and jot down any questions they have about the people, places, or events.
- Do research connected with the people, places, events, and time period.
- Create dialogue between characters and/or imagine a larger storyline beyond the photograph.
- Share how stories reflect both research and imagination.
The follow-up conversation could address questions like: What impact does the photograph have on me? What does it say about its time and the impact on the people who lived during those times?
This could be implemented as a school-wide project, including teachers from a variety of disciplines, and include historical research, interviews, writing, art-making, and more. It could also occur each year to create a record of your school and neighborhood’s history—and what students want to see for its future.
Define the characteristics of your school community based on people, places, and events. Create a list of the class’s ideas.
Research the history of your school. This might include interviews with teachers, family, and community members as well as finding sources on the internet and in the library.
Discuss how you are learning about history, as well as contributing to and preserving the school and neighborhood’s history.
Share your findings with a larger community. Remember visual arts are a way to understand and exchange ideas, so how can findings be shared visually? Think about the variety of places to share these ideas, including bulletin boards, the yearbook, school newspaper, website, blog, etc.
Discuss how your students’ research and discoveries might lead to visions about the future of their school and the community surrounding it.
Category: Identity and Community
, Observation & interpretation
Photographs of people can make us curious about their lives, accomplishments, and experiences. How can we use our observation skills to prompt personally relevant investigations of these photographs? How did the artist capture something important? Just because it is a photograph, does that make it important?
Choose a variety of Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs depicting people.
Students should observe them carefully and take note of what more they might like to know about them. Ask them to make a list of questions they would ask the people in the photographs if they could. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next?
Share their questions and reasons with classmates in small groups. Have your students ask each other the same questions about the photographs. What are the responses from classmates about the photographs?
If possible, ask students to research something further about the photographs, such as the people, location, events, or the time period. Can they find answers to any of their questions?
Discuss what happens if you can’t find anything specific about the people, places, or events. What are possible factors for this? How can we use observations to create hypotheses and back them up? How does it prompt us to keep asking questions?
Ask students to bring in a recent photograph of themselves (or use this opportunity to take new photographs during class). Students can ask similar questions of their own photograph or of their classmates’ photographs. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next? They should think about what they would want someone in the future to know about them. How does the composition of their photograph, their pose, or the setting suggest something about their identity?