Ask middle schoolers to show you their city through the lens of a camera and here's what you'll get: a colorful mosaic of images featuring their favorite people, places and things, from flowers to friends, street scenes to sneakers, and trees to trains. The photographs make up an exhibition that is the end result of a special citywide photography lesson called "Everyday DC."
"I love that D.C. is a place where people can come all together and be free and be with everyone that they love," said Lauryn Tharpe, one of the four student curators who worked with their art teacher at Brookland Middle School to put the exhibition together. "There's more to D.C. than big buildings and important people."
As part of the "Everyday DC" unit, students across the city learned basic photography and investigative reporting skills thanks to a program started last year by an organization called the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
"Everyday DC" was inspired by a popular Instagram feed called Everyday Africa, started by two professional photographers who noticed that their personal photos of Africa showed a different story than their professional work. The goal of the online photo "exhibit" is to show viewers what it's like to live in Africa, as opposed to what people outside of Africa see in the news.
Here in Washington, students took photos to reflect their lives in the nation's capital. Twelve middle schools each submitted about 10 student photographs, from beautiful portraits to abstract close-ups, action shots and delicious images of favorite foods. Lauryn and the other three student curators — Alexis Thomas, Makayla Herrington and Bridney Takoh — were selected to be curators by their art teacher, Maame Bawuah (pronounced MAH-may BEH-we-uh), who coordinated the project for D.C. Public Schools.
"I have a lot of amazing students, although the four of them are quite exceptional," said Bawuah, who chose the students to be curators because of their interest in both photography and learning about museum curation when they go to high school.
A curator is someone who collects, organizes, cares for and displays anything in a collection. To get ready for exhibition, the curators had many tasks, including taking their own photographs as well as helping their teacher gather and evaluate the images submitted by schools and grouping photos by theme, such as quiet afternoons, green, streets and blue sky.
As Lauryn, Alexis, Makayla and Bridney worked their way through piles of photographs, they talked about what they liked and what stood out. They thought about how the 126 images would be organized on the walls of the gallery.
"We pinned them on the wall and talked about what each photo meant," Makayla said. She was in charge of organizing the "green" wall, which includes pictures of grassy parks and trees, among other green things. The team of 13-year-olds also helped measure and hang the framed photos on the gallery walls.
"The process was kind of fun," Lauryn said, "but hard at the same time." They ate a lot of cookies along the way and worked after school.
During their final preparations at the downtown Pepco Edison Place Gallery last Friday, Alexis walked around the exhibit with the corner of a soft, blue cloth tucked into the pocket of her jeans.
"I've been dusting," she explained.
Alexis also pointed out her own contribution to the exhibit: a portrait of her younger sister Justine, standing on a bridge over a highway near their home.
Bridney, who contributed photos including a Metro station and a cloudy street scene, hopes their images might help visitors to the gallery see the diversity of the city.
"It's a little bit of everything," she said, "and a fun place."
Where: Pepco Edison Place Gallery. Enter at 702 Eighth Street Northwest.
When: Tuesday-Friday noon to 4 p.m. through January 26. Special tours may be arranged through contacting the Pulitzer Center education department: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How much: Free.