“New Haven, Revisited” Frames the City From a Teenage View

June 2, 2024

Pairing teenagers with Kodaks, the photo exhibit at the Ives Public Library invites its viewers to reimagine the city.

 

Visitors at the Ives Public Library found CT Transit buses, café tables, neighborhood bakeries, and lonely French fries—New Haven, broken into some 1,500 snapshots of time and place—spilled across the orange exhibit shelves and tables.

 

Opened on May 16th, “New Haven, Revisited” showcases photos from local high schoolers chronicling life in the city with waxy Kodak film.  The Yale Environmental Humanities-funded exhibit is on display at the Ives Public Library until July 31st, offering viewers the chance to experience the city’s 1960s-era urban renewal through the voices—and lenses—of its youth.

For organizers Fany Kuzmova, M. Arch ‘24 and Kevin Yang M.Arch ’24, the exhibit’s inspiration developed through their architecture coursework.  Inspired by Professor Elihu Rubin’s class, “Urban Research and Representation,” they hoped to explore the city’s social infrastructure from perspectives that have often been overlooked.

The exhibit is “showing the city through the eyes of people who don’t really have their space curated for them,” Kuzmova said.

 

“New Haven, Revisited” features a year’s worth of photography from high schoolers at the High School in the Community and the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School.  With support from a public humanities grant from Yale Environmental Humanities, Kuzmova and Yang arranged a series of workshops that provided history lessons about New Haven’s past and offered tips on collage-making.  The students meanwhile worked with disposable cameras donated by Kodak and had their film developed at Milford Photo.

A city is much more than a collection of buildings.  According to Kuzmova, the exhibit challenged her to search “outside of the [classroom] walls.”  The photos draw attention to the rich relationships and organizations among demographics that may be otherwise forgotten.

Yang explained that teenagers—many of whom lack spending money and can’t frequent certain establishments—were one such group.  Halfway from youth to adulthood, their in-between life stage did not lend itself easily to finding space in the city for themselves.  Through interviews with community members, Yang had realized that the New Haven’s teenagers occupied an “interesting spatial conundrum” and sought to address the issue.

 

The quirks and insights of teenage vision underlie “New Haven, Revisited.”  As a kind of collage unto itself, the exhibit captures the city in its most intimate, surprising, and unexpected moments.  It features street photos, night pictures, and half-exposed portraits, with subjects ranging from the minute to the macro.  The photos treated their viewers to upturned sidewalk tiles, the city’s sun-brushed skyline, and everything in between.

“It was a good reason to get out and take photos,” Leilanie Cruz, Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School student, said.  Cruz’s work was on display during the exhibit’s opening night.

 

The project posed unique challenges for its high school participants.  Most students “never interacted with a film camera before,” Chris Randall, photography teacher at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, said.  The constraints of film photography—finite film strips that had to be developed—forced the student photographers to be more intentional with their shots.

 

Yang linked the exhibit to instances of grassroots change unfolding throughout New Haven.  Also known as “tactical urbanism,” the movement describes citizen-led change in urban infrastructure, such as street-painting and homemade speeding signs.  By focusing on the ways in which local residents have created their own spaces, the photos help teenagers connect with their city.

 

“You have this history of urban renewal that’s extremely top down and incongruent with how people live,” Yang said.  “What is the most important is building social capital and forming those relationships among residents of the city.”

 

The photos—many of which capture the Town Green, backyard gardens, and neighborhood bodegas—reckon with urban renewal’s aftermath.  They provide glimpses into the lasting legacy of an age that saw highway construction, redlining, and the loss of key residential areas.

 

Like other urban centers across the country, New Haven embarked on extensive modernizing campaigns throughout the 1960s.  Helmed by mayor Richard Lee, the city sought to revitalize its downtown areas through nationally funded “War on Poverty” programs.  Urban development projects during the decade included the redevelopment of Church Street and the construction of Route 34, which eliminated more than 2,200 local businesses and displaced 22,496 residents by 1969.

The effects continue to linger today.  Despite recent efforts to reconnect the Hill neighborhood to downtown, New Haven remains heavily redlined.  White families occupy 88% of Grade A neighborhoods, and home ownership disparities split along racial lines.

The exhibit hopes to bring this story full circle.  According to Kuzmova, the next stop for “New Haven, Revisited” could be Mayor Elicker’s front door.  Kuzmova added that they are currently working to find space for the exhibit in City Hall following its stay in the Ives Public Library.

 

In the meantime, the photos will continue challenging their audience to see the city anew.  “By looking at their pictures, I get to see their vision of the world,” Randall said.