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The Scarlet & Black

Steinbrecher showcases education

Steinbrecher’s photos on display in Burling library. Photo by Aaron Juarez
Steinbrecher’s photos on display in Burling library. Photo by Aaron Juarez
Steinbrecher’s photos on display in Burling library. Photo by Aaron Juarez

“The Education Photo Project,” a new exhibition of photography by Chicago-based photographer Sandra Steinbrecher, is displayed in the Burling Basement Gallery through March 15. The exhibition is a selection of photographs dating back to 2007, when Steinbrecher began shadowing the principal of Harper High School in Chicago.

“I was following the principal and I was there all the time. Kenyatta Stansberry and Elizabeth Dozier were co-principals at Harper. Elizabeth Dozier went on to become the principal at Fenger [Academy High School] the following year and she asked me to document what they were doing there too. Then Principal Stansberry went on to Marshall [Metropolitan High School] and she asked me to do some work over there,” Steinbrecher wrote in an email to The S&B.

Harper, Fenger and Marshall High School are the sources of the exhibit’s black and white documentary photographs, which portray educators in action at various public schools in Chicago. In addition to these documentary photographs, the exhibit contains very personal color portraits of the educators and activists who agreed to participate in Steinbrecher’s ongoing project.

“Once they agree, I ask them to choose a location that’s meaningful or important to them in some way. The location is their choice. For the statement, I ask them to write something about why they do what they do [and] where their inspiration comes from. I ask them to be as personal in their statements as they can be,” Steinbrecher wrote.

Whereas media portrayals of the public education system often communicate despair and dysfunction, Steinbrecher’s project focuses the human element in the education system, according to Lesley Wright, Director of the Faulconer Gallery.

“The photos show very real people who are going through their daily lives educating young students, and it doesn’t try to paint a picture of horrible high school[s] or horrible crime or terrible conditions but of solid people doing solid work every day. It humanizes, I think, what people tend to stereotype through the media as places that are full of troubles. Instead, they are places that are full of trouble, but they’re also full of hope and people doing their very best every day,” Wright said.

The photos are also useful, according to Steinbrecher, not just for documentary purposes but also for presentations, websites and communications by educators to raise awareness of their job and its challenges.

“Basically, it’s supposed to help them tell the story of the work they’re doing in these schools and why they need assistance or why they need new programs. It’s a way to put a face to the data that is used to create education policies in public schools. The photography is supposed to foster a connection to the kids and to the staff working in the schools,” Steinbrecher wrote.

Wright also compared the exhibition to the current show on display in the Faulconer Gallery, called “Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument.”

“Her exhibition makes an interesting counterpoint to the Gordon Parks exhibition in Faulconer Gallery right now. The Gordon Parks exhibition was his first photo essay in LIFE magazine in 1948. What the exhibition details is the back and forth between him, as the photographer, and the editors of LIFE magazine to select the images that became the essay in LIFE magazine and how the photographer had to negotiate with a lot of other editorial voices on doing that. For Sandy’s show, it’s all her voice. It’s what she chooses to present about those high schools,” Wright said.

Although the project has been ongoing for over seven years, Steinbrecher said she is not done yet.

“This is actually not a finished project. It’s not my goal to be finished yet. I still have people that I want to photograph, and I think there will probably be more. I think there’s a good range in there, a really good variety. What kind of work are all these educators doing, what is their inspiration and how can we learn from them?” Steinbrecher wrote.

The gallery exhibit comes to Grinnell with the help of Howie Schein ’66, who brought Steinbrecher’s work to Wright’s attention.

Additionally, a panel discussion, entitled “Images and Issues in Urban Education” is slated to occur at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6 in JRC 101. Several educators from Chicago, including Elizabeth Dozier, principal at Christian Fenger Academy High School and Landon Jones from the University of Chicago Charter School will sit on the panel. Additionally, Professor Kathryn Wegner, Education, and Steinbrecher herself will participate in the discussion.

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