Collective Photo Album (many images of us alone, together)

Installation view. Collective Photo Album (many images of us alone, together), 29 March 2023 – ongoing. Artists Alliance, Norfolk St (between Broome and Delancey), New York. Photo: Brad Farwell.

Collective Photo Album (many images of us alone, together), is the result of a photo workshop created in collaboration between P.S. 134 fourth and fifth grade students and New York-based artist Jennifer M. Harley.

In Spring 2021, Dana Miller’s students unleashed their inner photographers to notice everyday moments with their disposable cameras, inspired by analog and digital photo albums that collect small moments to tell long stories. Set against the backdrop of prolonged isolation and immense instability caused by the pandemic, students created images that reflect a personal sense of self and the many community bonds that contribute to their identities. 

“As I [Harley] reflect on the time when we started this project, during the height of NYC’s COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded of all the educators, school administrators, parents, extended family, and community members that made our online gatherings possible. I thank them for building a space for creativity together with the students and myself during an incredibly hard time. I am reminded of them whenever I look at the student’s photos because they feature predominantly in each student’s images!” 

Students worked collaboratively with friends, family, educators, and caregivers to look toward ordinary spaces–bodegas, laundromats, parks, trains. They created images on their way to and from school, in Chinatown, the Lower East Side and surrounding neighborhoods, and inside their classrooms and homes–to honor the places, people, and things they care most about. The intimate moments depicted in their photographs not only reflect their ability to be present in instances of joy and love but exhibit their creative experimentation, vulnerability and courage.

“I [Harley] wanted to create a project in collaboration with the PS. 134 4th and 5th-grade students and their educators that allowed for experimentation and that put the students themselves and the people, places, and objects that are most important to them at the center. Most of the students who participated had never used a film camera before and our work together leaned into the nature of play and surprise that is central to the media.”

The photos included in this installation are a small fraction of the many images that were created as a part of this project. The full living photo album will be cared for by the students of P.S. 134. Reflecting back on the project, Harley mentions that, “Artists Alliance Inc and District 1 schools are continuing this project with artists and students and it is wonderful to see these collaborative projects continue to grow. There are so many images that ultimately were not included in the display on the exterior of Essex Market but each student has their photo prints and digitized images and I often wonder how they have been incorporated into the physical and digital spaces where they spend their time.”

When asked how this project relates to Harley’s artistic practice, she notes, “my creative and writing practice always connects to archival research, sometimes to historical photos and documents, the archives of artists, or personal family archives. As an artist who works primarily in sculpture the photos I take act as a type of sketchbook or album. They help me ask questions about space, notice details, document my community, and remember to be playful in my creative work and in life. Like any roll of film, each student’s photo negatives included out-of-focus images, fingers that slipped over the lens, or where movement and light combined to create a blur. This is something that is also important to my creative practice and it was something we spoke about in our time together. It was important to include photos that did a type of imperfect or illegible image work in the display on Essex Market alongside the portraits, stills of interior spaces, and landscapes of Chinatown, and the Lower East Side.”

The Collective Photo Album is installed on the exterior of the Essex market on Norfolk Street at the corner of Broome Street and is publicly accessible for viewing.

Artist: Jennifer M. Harley 
Production Design: Kameron Neal
Curatorial Assistant: Erika Juarez
School Staff and Students: Principal Marlon Hosang, Ms. Dana Miller, Deanmani, Diol, Eowyn, Isiah, Jaylor, Jenna, Kaiden, Lily, London, Louisiana, Nu-Asla, and Saniya

Commissioned by Artists Alliance Inc and presented in partnership with the District 1 City Seekers program. Project support provided by Delancey Street Associates/Essex Crossing, LES Partnership, and Essex Market.

Jennifer Harley (she/they) is an interdisciplinary artist, art historian and educator based in Brooklyn. Her practice includes collaboratively building and facilitating partnerships between art museums and community spaces, centering individuals with justice histories. She received her BFA in Sculpture and BA in Art Management at Appalachian State University and has held roles at The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, and The Museum of the City of New York. She is currently the School & Community Partnerships Manager at the Studio Museum in Harlem where she has worked five years. In September 2022 she will join the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University as a PhD candidate.