An Incredible Freedom
Photograph by Dechen Ballantine Kaplan
This project began over Zoom in the fall of 2020 with students from the East Side Photo Program. As tiny boxes of faces, some of us had never met each other in person before. We met each week through an historic election season, a global pandemic, remote/blended/hybrid/asynchronous/synchronous schooling, college applications/acceptances/rejections/waits, an insurrection at the Capitol, each of our personal-life roller coasters, and the constant unpredictability of this time. These 12 photographers were a constant—a constant positive force—coming every week, photographing, writing, analyzing, and supporting each other.
We started our spring semester examining a quote from the artist Carrie Mae Weems to guide the final project: “The camera gave me an incredible freedom. It gave me the ability to parade through the world and look at people and things very, very closely.”
In the midst of all the overwhelming circumstances of our time, what did these photographers feel free enough to look closely at? How did the camera give them permission to look and share their world with us?
Recipient of the 2020 Photoville & PhotoWings Educator Exhibition Grant.
Featuring: Andrew Cheng, Brandon Chu, Naidelyn Contreras, Tigerlily Hopson, Dechen Ballantine Kaplan, Brooke Osterholt, Angelie Rodriguez, Charli D. Rodriguez, Emely Romano, Iggy Roque, Sabrina Valdez, Andy Xie
About The Artists
Andrew Cheng is a junior and enjoys making art and being creative. Besides photography, he loves drawing and painting.
Brandon Chu is a senior. Photography has been something new for him, but photographing moments through sports, traveling, and his neighborhood have been memorable.
Naidelyn Contreras is a sophomore with a passion for music and art. “I was super excited to join this class, as this gave me a chance to further explore the stories I could tell with a camera.”
Tigerlily Hopson graduated from East Side and is now currently a freshman at Yale University studying journalism. “My years of high school photography have given me a tool of expression and escape.“
Dechen Ballantine Kaplan is a junior who enjoys art and music, as well as photographing people and buildings.
Brooke Osterholt is a senior. “I use photography to express myself, to send meaningful messages. When I take a photograph, I think of how it could awaken an emotion or feeling in the viewer. To spark a flame of thought.”
Angelie Rodrigue is an 11th-grader who loves to use creativity to express herself. “I enjoy reading, writing, music, and all other forms of art. In my photography, I like to capture nature and fashion, especially with my self portraits.”
Charli D. Rodriguez graduated from East Side and is now currently a freshman majoring in fine art photography at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Emely Romano is a junior. “I love to show things that are very important to me. Taking pictures has helped me with my creativity and it is also a way that I express myself.”
Iggy Roque is a 15-year-old photographer in New York City. He uses photography to show others how he views the world, especially in terms of fashion and places.
Sabrina Valdez is a 15-year-old photographer from New York. She likes to express herself by using photography.
Andy Xie graduated from East Side and is now currently a freshman at Hunter College.
About The Organization
The East Side Photo Program began at East Side Community School in 2012, with the support of the Five Boroughs Foundation of Photography. An intensive program for students dedicated to learning photography on an advanced level, ESPP aims to foster independent, creative, critical, and visual thinking—helping our community make meaning of our world. Over the last decade, the East Side Photo Program has had over 150 student participants, made over 50 photo books, published four magazines remotely, hosted dozens of guest photographers, editors, and artists, and partnered with a variety of organizations.
East Side Community School is a small 6th through 12th grade school dedicated to the belief that all students can, must, and will learn and succeed academically. We help each of our students meet high standards by providing personal attention, a strong sense of community, high-quality instruction, and engaging learning experiences. We have a school-wide commitment to celebrating diversity, promoting social justice, and combating racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and any other form of discrimination. The goal of the school is to create a community of highly skilled students, critical thinkers, lifetime learners, and socially responsible citizens who are prepared to succeed in college and beyond—positively impacting their communities.