ETW Blogs

Our Journey to One Stop Down

  • Zainab Floyd

    Untitled, 2015

    Courtesy the artist

As a high school student, I have had the opportunity to learn about photography at the Studio Museum through a program called Expanding the Walls. It’s an eight-month photography-based residency that immerses high school students, from all over New York City, in the world of photography. This program is specifically unique because we receive cameras and have opportunities to interact with contemporary artists and the James VanDerZee archive, and exhibit our work in the Studio Museum’s galleries.

Many of us came to this program without previous knowledge of photography. In the early stages of the program, Gerald, our program coordinator, exposed us to work by many different contemporary artists, and encouraged us to experiment with many different ideas. We were introduced to James VanDerZee’s work, and it was not until we attended classes at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), that we began to have a better understanding of the world of photography. Isaac Diggs was our professor for the four weeks of class at SVA. With Diggs, we experimented with film photography and learned how to develop our images. For many of us it was an overwhelming experience, and for some it came naturally. After our time at SVA, we all began to feel the pressure to produce impressionable works for our exhibition.

For the remainder of the program we attended museums, workshops, and met with artists to build on our ideas for our exhibit. Many of us were unsure about what direction our works would take, but I was lucky enough to stick to my original idea. I am often stubborn and this was the only time that my stubbornness was able to work in my favor. As the exhibition approached, Gerald gave us a number of assignments on artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Gordon Parks, Kehinde Wiley, James VanDerZee and Mickalene Thomas. We had to present our research on these artists in groups of two’s. My classmate Ashley and I presented on Mickalene Thomas.

My research on Thomas’s use of color and 1970s-styled sets affirmed the use of color in my own work. I stuck to color, patterns and vibrancy. It was not much of an experimentation for me because I stuck with this theme, and worked on deriving my family’s cultural influences from traveling, being Muslim, and coming from a multicultural household. As for my classmates: many of them were experimenting, and it wasn’t until the curators came to visit that my classmates began to become more reassured and confident in their ideas. My close friends took time out of class to shoot their friends and family, and to formulate stories that were either personal or resonated with them.

By the second time the curatorial staff visited, we were confident in our works. In preparation of our exhibition, the curators asked us to each choose three photographs from the thousands we took throughout the program. Then, based on our selections and artist statements, the curators decided which works would be featured in the exhibition. As the curators decided on our photographs, we—together with the help of Gerald and intern Chris—selected the VanDerZee photographs to accompany our work. As the day of the One Stop Down opening approached, we were all anxious, but I was shaking with nerves. On the day of the exhibition, we were mostly proud of how far we have come, and the people we met during the amazing journey of creating art. We were all so very proud.

—Zainab Floyd, Expanding the Walls 2015