During a weekend full of praise, Head of School John Packard's remarks about Hannah Latham '17 at Brooks School's May 29 Prize Day stood out.
"The impact she has made on her school will reverberate for some time to come," he said while awarding the school prefect The Trustees Prize, bestowed annually upon any member of the school community who has served beyond the call of duty. (Latham also collected The Russell Morse Prize, given to an upper school student who has made distinguished contributions to the visual arts at Brooks, during Lawn Ceremony the previous day).
Her "See Me" photographic independent study installation on campus in early May "invited members of the community to be photographed and share something about themselves they thought no one else knew," said Packard. "In so doing, she allowed us to know one another better; she helped us continue to build community; she contributed to improving our school."
Latham had hoped to make an impression on the community when she proposed the project – photographing 100 members of the school in what she called an "expressive, emotional portrait," printing out each image on a 2- by 3-foot sheet, and then pasting each on the pavement of campus's pedestrian Main Street with their confessional note for all to see.
"I wanted to show a variety of different faces, ages, walks of life," said the student. "I wanted to make the effort to get staff members who are usually behind the scenes, too, because of the 'See Me' message of the project, so that it would show the community as a whole. I wanted students to see the woman who makes their sandwich out their next to their math teacher and best friend. The idea was to touch a wide range of people."
So, over the course of three weeks on campus, Latham rallied Brooksians to pose and pen a sharing statement then she photographed each in the school's Black Box theater, since dismantled to make way for construction of Brooks' new Center for the Arts facility, scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.
"We're such a small school, so you're known for what you do," said Latham. "And until you get to know someone, you don't really get to know who they really are."
The surprises that people shared with her ran the gamut. "I got a range of responses from some really personal things — like 'I survived a brain tumor' or 'anorexia' and other deep things that you wouldn't otherwise know — to things about family or what the person likes to do."
Latham took all of it in stride. She'd been preparing for this project, after all, for years. "Doing an installation like this has been in the back of my mind since the seventh grade," she said, recalling that she was inspired by a 2011 TED Talk with the French street artist JR. "I just didn't know exactly what I wanted to do until the beginning of this school year. I couldn't find a space that I thought would work. Then I thought, 'Oh my god, Main Street!' Everyone walks through Main Street, no matter who you are."
That common ground was essential to the installation. "This past year with all of the political tensions and whatnot, people kept saying that they were divided, and I felt it too," said Latham. "So I wanted to recognize the importance of individuality in the greater community and to bring us all together in a way to celebrate who is here and recognize that while we're all different, we're together."
Thankfully, Packard agreed with the Main Street venue and supported the project by matching the $250 that the art department had provided for supplies, such as printing, brushes and buckets. Free labor came courtesy of friends, who helped Latham paste down the photos on the pavement one evening with a flour-and-water "goo" concoction.
"The whole project really shows how warm the community at Brooks is, and how willing to help they are — even though I had to nudge some people at times to show up," she said.
Latham had a captive audience in the Chapel the morning that she delivered her "Senior Speech," introducing her installation and explaining the big idea behind it. "By reducing a concept or a person to a single stereotype of something we're kind of losing part of their humanity," she said. "And what I hope people get out of my project is realizing that we're all more than a single story; that it's worth getting to know the person who serves you lunch, the person who sits alone and you may not talk to. I want people to use their time well here because it'll be gone before you know it."
The installation's lifespan was relatively short as well, by design. Latham – headed to the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall – said, "It was only up for four days; long enough to make an impact." Just like she did.
Click here to see photos of the project and installation process.