Elizabeth Kelly & Leslie V. (age 12)

Leslie V.
Cyanotype on Watercolor Paper

About the Artist

Elizabeth Kelly is a photographic artist and art educator living and working in Philadelphia, PA. She seeks to explore the relationship between image and identity within herself and children living in the digital age. Focusing on addressing the importance of art education on early expression and sense of self in children who live in communities with limited access to the arts. Kelly creates environmental portraits, self portraits, and collaborative works with students using varying traditional photographic processes. She received her BA in Studio Art with a focus in Photography from Hendrix College in Conway, AR, Her M.Ed. focus in Art Education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Little Rock, AR and is currently a candidate for her MFA in Socially Engaged Art at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, PA.


Artist Statement

“Retraction of Identity”
A collaborative body of photographic work with the students of St. Theresa Catholic School

In an effort to explore multiple mediums in my art class I embarked on a feeble demonstration of identity through art and photography with my 6th graders. Because I studied photography, specifically focusing on environmental and descriptive portraiture, in my undergraduate art studies; I was hoping to engage my students in a small project that would connect them not only to photography as a fine art medium but show them that images still have power in a world where images are constantly being created and shared. I presented them with the prompt “If someone were to ONLY see a photograph of you, what would you want them to know about you or your life?”

Though I anticipated some thoughtful responses I was shocked by the amount of students who felt the need to justify the worth of themselves, their background, and their heritage. In the scenario I presented to the students the viewer would only be given a photograph. Rather than sharing details about themselves, their interests, or their personalities my students shared their immigration status, languages known and birthplaces of their parents. Our society is so inundated with hatred and discrimination that my students, 11-13 years old felt that they would immediately be racially profiled by a single image. My students felt the need to use their words and their voice to prove their value in a society that tells them they are not valuable because of the way they look, the languages they speak, or the place they were born.

This project quickly became much more than a demonstration of the power of images. Photos are cyanotype images which students were then able to manipulate with markers as they saw fit.