With this project, Structures that Transformed Education, I am creating a typological study of school structures that forever changed education in America and school structures that are still playing an important part in the ongoing struggle for educational freedom in America. I am photographing and building architectural sculptures of schools to explore the possibilities of using 2D imagery and 3D forms to communicate how combining historical and modern technologies will help communicate this important story. There have been many books written about the history of education but there are very few visual artists working to tie this written language to a visual language. This project is too large for one person to take on themselves, it demands a collaborative community approach. Therefore, a team of students, teachers, educational researchers, and community leaders at the local, regional, and national level have been working together to bring this work to life.
Many of the historic school structures that make up this project played an important role in the history of racial segregation and racial desegregation in public education in America. While the African American segregation within the school systems anchors this narrative, this typological study integrates the school desegregation struggles of Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Chicano/Latino Americans. This study thus considers the school desegregation struggles of the communities of color together and separately as dictated by the historical record. Therefore, included in my photographs and architectural models are schools that were designed to provide segregated education for Caucasians, and schools that were designed to provide segregated education for African Americans, Indigenous People, and People of Color. School desegregation has always been an important part of the ongoing struggle for educational freedom in America. With this typological study, I am working with school buildings that have already been identified as significant places, and I am actively searching out properties that have been overlooked in the larger national narrative in the history of educational reform. I am working with school buildings that are associated with events that both led to and followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision in: Brown vs Board of Education that in 1954 overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public education in the United States of America. The purpose of photographing and building architectural sculptures of these properties is to highlight these historic structures that best exemplify and illustrate the historical movement to provide for a racially nondiscriminatory education for all.
To create photographs that are clearly delineated and neutral views of these school buildings, I am using a 4x5 large-format view camera to take advantage of its native perspective controls and to fully immerse myself in the slow process of creating a tangible photographic object. When creating these photographic images, I am continuing the documentary tradition practiced by Walker Evans, William Christenberry, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. When building the architectural sculptures, I am continuing the precedent set by William Christenberry who translated some of the buildings he photographed into sculptures. To create the architectural sculptures of school buildings, I use computer-aided design software to layout the parts of the structure, then I use a laser cutter to precisely cut the parts out, and then I hand assemble the parts together. This project focuses on providing a platform for students, teachers, educational researchers, and community members the opportunity to consider the challenges and goals of education and how educational structures influences the learning process. One of my hopes for this typological study is to allow historical thinking and contemporary thinking about education to reach a wider public audience.