On February 1, 2019, thirteen photography students from colleges and universities in New York City were invited to Aperture Foundation’s Chelsea gallery for a workshop inspired by Aperture magazine’s winter issue, “Family.” Participants were joined by Rhea Combs, Curator of Film & Photography at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and photographer Kathryn Harrison. The workshop began with Aperture magazine’s managing editor, Brendan Embser, introducing the day’s speakers. The first session of the workshop was led by Combs, who discussed how the notion of family motivates her work as a curator. Combs started out by showing images from her own personal family archive, and continued on to discuss more historical images from the museum’s collection. Combs provided meaningful insight into the way she looks at photographs, discussing how images “convey a fissure, or another layer into the subject’s personality.” Combs concluded her session by answering insightful questions from the students while emphasizing the need to rupture the notion that family photographs may not always be deemed “museum quality.”
The second session of the workshop was a master class by Kathryn Harrison. As a young photographer who has recently received her MFA from Yale, and whose work has been featured in publications like the New York Times, Aperture, and Format, she was able to provide a range of advice from how to be a working photographer to how to balance work and personal life. Harrison walked the students through her own photographs, showing them projects from her undergraduate degree as well as her most recent work about her family. Even when Harrison is not making work directly about her mom and her brother, all of her work is deeply rooted in the notion of family. For the remainder of the workshop, Harrison led students through portfolio reviews. She looked at each student’s body of work, giving them feedback and helpful advice. She told the students that “it is important to photograph the way the world looks now. In twenty years, it will look completely different.” Harrison’s openness about her own work and her words of encouragement inspired students to continue making work and be confident in the direction their projects are going in.
This workshop was made possible with generous contributions from the Anne Levy Charitable Trust and The Reba Judith Sandler Foundation. Additional support was provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.