Portrait of a Young Teacher in an Inner-City High School
Education Week: Can you talk about what inspired this project, and how it came together?
Alexis: I started this project through a fellowship from Magnum Foundation. As part of the fellowship, I was to cover an underreported issue in New York City. After graduating college in 2012, a lot of my peers and friends became teachers through various programs like Teach for America. I became interested in exploring the dynamics between young people my age teaching students that were only a few years younger than they were. What does that look like? Is there a power struggle? Do the young teachers use their age to their advantage and are they more relatable to students?
Education Week: How long did you work on this project?
Alexis: I spent about four months shooting at BCAM [Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School.] After I finished photographing the project, I began teaching a photography elective at the school.
Education Week: Your photographs show great access with Ferrin Bujan both in and out of the school, can you expand on building that trust and how important that trust goes both ways?
Alexis: If you expect your subject to share anything with you, you must be willing to share a fair amount of yourself. Ferrin and I had a lot of common ground. We’re both young women living in Brooklyn, trying to pursue our respective careers. I view Ferrin as a peer and a friend. At first, it took some getting used to one another, as is expected with any relationship. But after four months of showing up, we fell into a groove. In the classroom she would tell me she would forget I was there till she heard the click on my shutter.
Education Week: What were some of you biggest challenges while following Ferrin?
Alexis: One of the biggest challenges was not with Ferrin, but with the students. Gaining their trust was much more difficult. Some students would jump in my frame and make faces. Others would hide their faces and some would get upset and ask me not to photograph them. I had to be respectful of that and not include those students in the photographs. I found that connecting with the students without my camera made them more at ease when I was photographing. I would spend lunch time or after school talking with them. As with Ferrin, I think my constant presence resonated with some of the students. Kids are incredibly receptive. After a while they got that I was actually interested enough to care.
Education Week: You are now teaching at the school, did you always want to teach or was this project a catalyst for your decision?
Alexis: Honestly, I never saw myself as a teacher. But this first class completely changed my mind. I had a blast with the students. We had very limited resources, which forced us to get creative with what we had. Having New York City at your disposal is huge. There are tons of free galleries and creative opportunities to take advantage of. I was lucky enough to take some photography courses in high school, which ultimately led me to where I am today. I think exposing youth to the arts is incredibly important. Even if they choose not to pursue something in the arts as a career, they have a creative and expressive outlet. I don’t think I’ll replace the shooting with teaching, but finding the harmony between the two has been incredibly rewarding.
Education Week: What’s next for you Alexis?
Alexis: I have some new project ideas I’m pursuing. I’ll be co-teaching a middle school pinhole photography workshop in Brooklyn at Photoville in September and hopefully teaching at BCAM again in the winter.
The Photographer: Alexis Lambrou is a Brooklyn-based photographer. She earned her BA in photojournalism from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her work has been published in The New York Times, NYTimes ‘Lens’ blog and numerous local publications near Pittsburgh. She was a 2012 recipient of the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Fellowship and was accepted into the 2013 Eddie Adams Workshop. Alexis currently teaches photography at Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School.
To see more of her work visit http://www.alexislambrou.com/home
A version on this previously appeared on The New York Times Lens Blog earlier this year.