The Bell School Project allows me access to the world of Chicago Public Elementary School children rarely, if ever, seen by the public, parents and many of the teachers.
I’ve had the great privilege of making pictures at the Alexander Graham Bell School since last February, commissioned to do my personal work by CPSLives, an arts organization in partnership with Chicago Public Schools. Bell School is 100 years old, comprising three programs: Neighborhood, Deaf and Gifted. There are 1,000 students in total; all students learn sign language.
One sees tremendous physical affection among the children of all grades. Cell phones are not permitted, creating opportunities for deeper engagement among the kids. There’s a great awareness of social justice issues throughout the school. Students in the upper grades participated in the March for Our Lives last spring.
In my work, I try to describe without preconceptions or disruption of the activity around me. I’m interested in portraits of individual children as well as the collective energy and exuberance of the children at lunch and at recess. The architecture of the stately 1917 building provides a setting for the spontaneous theater the children enact each day. The drama, enthusiasm and spirit of the children is abundant, almost overwhelming at times! I’m drawn to portray individual children, their games and their relationships to one another.
The project has created a new sense of community at Bell as the pictures are seen and shared.