A flannel-shirted man touches a bow to the strings of his violin in a Sonic parking lot, seemingly relying on the instrument for balance instead of the cane at his right. Empty, symmetrical church pews appear bathed in a gentle light from a gridded stained glass window. Two children wearing red T-shirts stand along a concrete sidewalk, with the larger crouching to allow the smaller to hop on his back for a piggy-back ride.
These portraits, landscapes and still lifes — on view through June 2 in the Eye on Houston exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — document the communities of photography students at Yates and Chavez High Schools.
"Our school sits in the heart of the Third Ward. We literally get up and walk off campus and go capture these images during the school day."
Yates High School photography teacher Ray Carrington, III, who launched the partnership with the MFAH in 1995, explains how the program enables learning beyond the classroom.
“Our school sits in the heart of the Third Ward. We literally get up and walk off campus and go capture these images during the school day. During the 18 years, the program has changed from being a kind of thrill to a sort of mission to go out and try to find something that students can identify, describe and recognize as part of our community.”
It’s clear from the conversation with Carrington that the Yates program isn’t simply about teaching the technical dimensions of photography . . . It’s also about learning to be an active observer in a changing city, conscious of the richness of the historically African-American community surrounding Yates and ways in which history can be actively produced through documentary imagery.
For the first time, the 2013 exhibition includes works not just of Yates students, but also of their peers from Chavez High School, whose photography program is directed by teacher Horatio Rodriguez. In future years, the exhibit will likely grow to include the works of students from other HISD schools.
Visit the MFAH’s website for more information on the exhibition, which remains on view at museum's Beck Building through June 2.
Watch Carrington and former MFAH director Peter Marzio in this vintage CBS Sunday Morning news piece: