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Secret Games: Wendy Ewald, Collaborative Works with Children
January 19, 2002–April 9, 2002
January 19, 2002–April 9, 2002
Wendy Ewald pioneered a practice that many professional photographers would fear: handing the camera over to her subjects. In doing so, she opened the world of photography to an unexpected group of children from developing nations and disadvantaged communities. For more than 30 years, Ewald has worked with children around the world, using photography to help them express what they think and feel about themselves, their families and their communities. She also makes photographs on her own of the communities she works with and collaborates with these children by having them mark and write on her negatives, challenging fundamental beliefs about documentary photography. Opening at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on January 19, 2002, Secret Games: Wendy Ewald, Collaborative Works with Childrenfeatured approximately 200 of these photographs along with a recent video installation. On view through April 9, 2002, Secret Games showcased the scope of Ewald’s work and the powerful results of her collaborations with children.
This retrospective exhibition highlighted 13 bodies of work made from 1969 to 1999. Each group varies in its presentation—from 30” x 24” portraits of Indian children to intimate 4” x 4” images created by youth in Appalachia, to a video in which Ewald’s North Carolina students take on the role of Holocaust survivors.
Ewald’s art-making process, which she has officially titled “Literacy Through Photography,” is straightforward. Typically, supported by grant money and local organizations, she moves into a community for several months or longer, teaches her collaborators how to use cameras—mostly 35mm with fixed-focus lenses—and shows them how to develop and print film. Then she guides participants through a series of assignments—“self-portrait,” “family,” “community,” and “dreams.” Before shooting the photos, students write about each theme, afterward, they write pieces about what their images reveal.
She believes that the people who belong to a community will always portray their experiences more accurately and expressively than a visitor. Even with her own photographs, she often gives her negatives to the children to mark and write on, mixing the images in such a way that it challenges the concept of who actually makes an image, who is the photographer, and who is the subject. In blurring the distinction of authorship, Ewald creates opportunities to look at the meaning and use of photographic images with fresh perspectives.
“Wendy Ewald has changed how we think about documentary photography,” says Philip Brookman, Senior Curator of Photography at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. “She understands that the most important truth about a subject can come from within. If the point of photography is to seek some truth, then this is often best accomplished by collaboration between subject and photographer.”
Ewald has worked in many parts of the United States as well as in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Her artistic collaborations have been widely published and exhibited, and she has received recognition - for her innovative creative practice, including a MacArthur Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation and the Fulbright Commission. Currently, Ewald is artist-in-residence at the Franklin Center; a senior research associate at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; and a senior fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, New York.