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In 2005, I founded a photography program for youths on Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. In this ongoing program, my students and I photograph together, share our images while they’re still in the viewfinder, and operate as both subjects and photographers. Our favorite locations are the fields and abandoned buildings on the fringes of town, forgotten places thick with the past that lend themselves to imaginary games and textured photographs. The absence of an adult presence is evident in both the children’s play and our images. The 500 inhabitants of Dupree, SD are confident in the area’s relative safety. Children explore freely, and develop a community of young people that operates without adult involvement. My images explore play as a vehicle through which youth reveal and negotiate their emotions, traumas, and desires. Children have a unique ability to experience love and joy alongside pain without compartmentalizing their experiences. I seek to convey this complexity. Over the course of four years, my students and I have documented our relationships with one another and this land. The validity and meaning of my images are linked to the shared context of their creation. Therefore, my work will be exhibited alongside the children’s photographs, which present the other parts of the whole. The design of a group exhibition represents the next phase of this program. In summer 2010, I plan to host six committed teenage photographers and two adults in New York City. The purpose of this visit is to expose the youth and elders to ideas of representation: the artist’s intent, and the viewer’s perceptions. We will tour museums and galleries, and meet with artists and curators. This artistic exposure is designed to inspire the creation of a photographic instillation that will enable the viewer to interact with our images and form relationships with our photographic subjects. Currently, my students, their families, and I are engaged in a fundraising campaign to support this next stage. We hope to reach a wide audience at home and abroad.
B. 1980. In 2003 Emily Schiffer received her BA in Fine Art and African American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, she founded the My Viewpoint Youth Photography Initiative on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, where she continues to teach and shoot. Awards include: the 2010 Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Portraiture, the 2010 winner of the PDN Photo Annual Personal Project Category, the 2009 Inge Morath Award, presented by Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, a 2006-2007 Fulbright Fellowship in Photography, and recognition as one of the top ten portfolios for the 2007 Leica Oskar Barnak Award. Emily has exhibited her photographs internationally. Her work is in the permanent collections of The Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan, Foto Baryo, Philippines, and The Center for Fine Art Photography, US. Emily lives in Brooklyn, NY and is available to work internationally.