Southside Occupational Academy: Kelsey Fagan & Andrea Slavik, Grades 9-12

Inspiring and Representing Occupational Pride Through Photography.

How can students at Southside inspire and represent occupational pride in the Southside community by creating and installing their original art in the school common areas?

– Southside Occupational Academy, Teacher Kelsey Fagan and Teaching Artist Andrea Slavik.

Image: Non-CAPE-affiliated art used as reference in classroom Harvest Talk, 1953, Charles E. White

For a frame of reference to their photo project, students were presented with historical and contemporary examples of the social and socialist realist genre in portraiture. Some examples included:

  • Portraits of farmers by African-American painter, Charles E. White

  • Portraits of factory workers and social movement leaders like MLK Jr. by Armenian- Canadian photographer, Yousuf Karsh

  • Designer Maria Arenas’s political campaign portraits of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

  • Graffiti artist Sheppard Fairey’s game changing portrait of then Senator Obama for the Obama ’08 campaign

  • Cuban photographer Alberto Korda’s iconic portrait of Che Guevara

  • Self portraits of painter Chuck Close

  • Various Soviet propaganda posters

As the presentation unfolded, students were presented with related inquiry questions:

  • When I’m talking about photographs/images, what do I mean when I say “subject”?

  • What do you think the subject is feeling and/or thinking?

  • Is this a good photograph/image? Why is this a good photograph/image?

  • What words come to mind when you look at this photograph/image?

  • What feelings do you experience when looking at this photograph/image?

Using a DSLR camera, students were guided in the production of candid and staged photographic portraits of their peers engaging in occupational programming such as agriculture, retail, custodial, woodworking, etc.

How do you communicate with your peer(s) while you are taking pictures of them?

We engaged students in the inquiry process by guiding them to experiment with different approaches during photo shoots and to keep the inquiry questions we discussed in mind as they worked. Here are some of the inquiry questions we encouraged students to think about throughout the entire process.

  • Using photography, in what ways can you inspire and represent occupational pride at Southside?

  • How do you approach a peer you would like to take pictures of?

  • How do you communicate with your peer(s) while you are taking pictures of them?

  • How do you know the moment is right to take a photo?

  • In the context of this project, what do you think makes a/this photograph successful? Why or why not?

  • What compositional techniques are used in this photo?

  • How do you feel about working on projects where you have to be outside of your classroom and interact with your peers?

  • How will it/does it feel to see your artwork displayed on the tv monitors and as large photographs on the walls at the annex?

  • Would you use what you learned in this project outside of school?

Students were also prompted to think about the production process as a collaboration with their peer-subjects.

We discussed the importance of the work that Southside students are being trained to do through inquiry questions like #9 and #10, as well as working class jobs in general. We discussed ways to celebrate and represent that importance through portraiture, collaboration and photography.

As the Covid-19 shutdown progressed, the term “essential workers” became commonly used.

There seems to be a silver lining to this awful pandemic in that certain ideological narratives are being challenged and dispelled – harmful narratives, which implicitly and explicitly suggest that working class people are not valuable, and are not deserving of a living wage or healthcare.


Our School, Ourselves, Digital Animations, 2020.

Students also created colorful hand drawn, digital animations that represent their interests and identities. It was not possible to bring the entire class at once to the annex to take photos due to space, equipment and other logistical limitations. This project was something students engaged with when they were not at the annex taking portraits. The videos will be looped on two in-school video monitors located in the common areas at Southside and will be presented along- side other student video works from Katie Radomski’s senior year art class. This project seeks to literally and figuratively animate and improve some of the shared spaces at Southside with student work.


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