May 2, 2020
Social Distance Seen Through the Photographic Eye of Teens
By Amy Frierson
When faced with the unprecedented task of making lesson plans for her ninth-grade art classes to work from home, Prince Avenue Christian School high school art teacher Meghan Hudson realized the opportunity to converge her love of art with her love of history and her love of students. Recognizing that students were faced with historic challenges that were having a profound effect on their personal lives, Meghan immediately drew the historic parallels to the Great Depression.
“I love history and am always looking for ways to integrate that into my teaching. I’ve always been really drawn to the photographs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographers and how they documented our country so beautifully at a very difficult time. This is usually one of my favorite topics of art history to discuss with my students, so when our lives and country all paused for quarantine orders, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels. I would have been crazy not to take advantage of that from a teaching point of view.”
And take advantage she did! For their at-home assignments, Mrs. Hudson had students view photos taken by the WPA photographers and discuss how the photographs were more than just documentation but a form of artwork that included various art elements and principles just as a drawing or painting. Students were then asked to take a photo of a scene that represented their current situation of quarantine. They were expected to consider compositional balance and principles of art such as pattern, line, contrast, and space.
Although Mrs. Hudson was personally inspired by the assignment, the students’ final products were overwhelming to her. “I can honestly say the results blew me away. I assumed they would take a quick photo that met the requirement minimums. With each submission, I felt more proud of their work and the thought and consideration put into each one.” Mrs. Hudson explains that the photographs were so revealing, it helped her to know her students better. “I told the students I have missed them way more than I thought I would, and these photos have helped me feel connected to them again—definitely not an outcome I anticipated!”
The students took the pictures using their cell phones, a proper reflection of their culture and time, but used the black and white filter to draw the parallel to WPA photography. Some students took a humorous approach, such as A.J. Simpkins’ picture of a hand reaching for an empty roll of toilet paper, “I chose my picture because there’s nothing worse than running out of toilet paper especially in a global pandemic.”
Others took a more documentary approach such as Kaitlyn Ward’s photograph of a social distancing sign or Tucker Maxey’s shot of a local pop-up food bank. “My picture shows what people are doing to help the community during the quarantine.”
Some students took a deeply personal approach revealing relationships affected or missed opportunities such as Ella Bray’s daily walk with her sister or Hayden Marshall’s reflection of missing his freshman baseball season. “The virus that quickly spread around the United States took my sport away from me.”
Still other photographs were deeply symbolic such as Steven Rhodes’ picture of a vacant road. “I wanted to take a picture of something that is usually full and used regularly but not as much anymore. That is when I chose to take a picture of something lonely and empty.”
Mrs. Hudson’s reaction to the students’ work is one of admiration. “I really can’t name my favorites or best; I seriously love them all.”
Meghan Hudson will always have these pictures to remember her own quarantine experience as well as to remember her students whose lives will forever be altered by this time.
And so it is that this dedicated teacher who recognized a teachable moment was able to combine her love of art, her love of history, and her love of students in order to achieve an unforgettable result. For Mrs. Hudson and her students, this experience closed the distance on distance-learning.