PHOTOGRAPHY & THE ARTS IN EDUCATION
International Center Of Photography Dazzles Manhattan
For those few skeptics who still question whether photography is an art form, one does not need to travel any further than Manhattan’s International Center of Photography (ICP), a thriving museum, school and research center on the intersection of 43rd and Sixth Avenue, to answer a definitive “yes”. Founded in 1974 by Life staff photographer Cornell Capa, brother of photojournalist Robert Capa who was killed by a landmine while covering the Vietnam War, ICP offers powerful testimony to photography’s transformative role in contemporary culture, boasting a permanent collection of more than 100,000 photographs which reflect important historical and contemporary images as well as exhibitions of such household names as Annie Leibovitz and Man Ray.
Under the current stewardship of Willis (Buzz) Hartshorn, a photographer, curator and author who took over the directorship in 1994, ICP has grown into one of the most extensive and best-equipped schools of photography in the country. “People have recognized that one of the great strengths of photography is that it is completely democratic. Nobody who goes into the Met and sees a sculpture by Rodin or a painting by Cezanne says, ‘I can do that.’ But when we go to a photography exhibition or see pictures in a magazine, we realize that we all have cameras, and we all can make pictures,” explains Hartshorn. So while the age-old question of whether photography is an art form has long since been answered affirmatively, Hartshorn believes that there has been a shift in his field to visual literacy: “The most important question that needs to be asked now is, how do pictures create meaning, and how do we understand what it is that we’re looking at? How do we use pictures to communicate ourselves, and how do we receive pictures for communication and for learning?” he elaborates. As a case in point, Hartshorn points out that photojournalism has created powerful images that have become iconic, haunting metaphors of our time: still photographs portraying the terrorism of 9/11 or detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib dramatically evoke feelings in the viewer akin to those felt by the reader of poetry.
In part because technology has made photography a democratic art form, ICP’s school has skyrocketed in popularity, now serving more than 5,000 adult learners each year ranging from amateurs seeking to brush up on their Photo Shop skills to more sophisticated students of light, color and imagery. For college students, the school offers two-year certificate programs in either general studies or documentary photography and photojournalism, along with a two-year joint graduate program with Bard leading to a master of fine arts degree. Many surrounding colleges such as NYU and Barnard allow their degree students to take courses at ICP for credit. And a rapidly growing Teen Academy offers after-school courses for some 250 children in all boroughs of the city, some of them supported by full scholarships. “We’re trying to build a sense of community with these kids and to help them with their self-esteem,” explains Hartshorn. “And we’re trying to build visual literacy. Some of these kids really get hooked and they want to get involved at another level.” For these dedicated students, ICP has developed an internship program whereby they work as mentors with the younger teens. Last year, ten such interns went on to study photography with full scholarships in college, thanks to extensive behind-the scenes support from ICP. “We teach them how to create their resumes, how to interview, how to dress properly, how to act socially...It’s a very layered process,” adds Hartshorn.
While photography is still a young art compared with the centuries of Great Masters, it is clear that Hartshorn and ICP are fast changing that landscape for new generations of museum-goers who will increasingly find stirring international imagery by photojournalists like James Nachtwey and Sebastiao Salgado down the hall from traditional pictures by Monet and Cezanne. Nachtwey, who has traveled from Afghanistan to Rwanda to bare the truth of war and pillage, has risen to national prominence because of his uncanny ability to bring about social change through the lens of his camera, and it is this artistic but brutal candor that makes his artistry so unforgettable. Nachtwey’s own words speak volumes: “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”#