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Pulitzer Center Update March 22, 2017

North Carolina Students Experience Tomas van Houtryve's Photographs

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The reasons for documenting contemporary North Korea are obvious; the difficulties of doing so are...

Students from The Arts Based School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina had an "interesting and thought provoking" experience this January when they met Pulitzer Center grantee Tomas van Houtryve and learned images can be interpreted in context.

This experience was part of a project, "Text+Context," designed by arts educator, Diana Greene. As part of the unit, students in the eighth grade visited the "Dispatches" exhibition at Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) and met with van Houtryve, who had two Pulitzer Center supported projects featured in the exhibition. Pulitzer Center partnered with SECCA on "Dispatches" to showcase a collection of artistic responses to the news, which were designed or photographed by artislts and photojournalists.

As part of a lesson plan created by Greene, students were introduced to van Houtryve's work in art class, which included his "Borderland: In the Shadow of North Korea" project, where he entered North Korea incognito to photograph the region, follow the North-South Korean border, scan the fortifications, and interview defectors. 

In a blog post on SECCA's website, Mary Siebert, Arts Director at The Arts Based School, noted that when a student asked van Houtryve why he was a journalist, he replied: "Because I don't trust what I read in the papers, I want to see it with my own eyes ... My purpose is just to add truthful information and open people's eyes to things, and make them break down their stereotypes, or learn about things they didn't know at all. So, I'm just trying to expand what we know in a way that's as accurate as possible."

After Van Houtryve's presentation, Maysun Marshall, a student from the school, said, "I feel like hearing him speak as well as seeing the other projects at SECCA, as well as the other places we visited in town, influenced me to try to understand things from a more human perspective rather than a removed, far away one." 

Inspired by SECCA's exhibit, which is designed to encourage viewers to ponder the information and images that they see, students returned to the classroom to craft captions for his photographs. They also created artistic work in response—a personal collage landscape meant to capture a sense of place, reflecting their visits to locations near the school. 

Van Houtryve travelled to Winston-Salem in November to meet with schools as part of Pulitzer Center's NewsArts program, which launched this year in Winston-Salem as an education initiative investigating connections between news and art.         

Image by Tomas van Houtryve. United States, 2014.
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