Breaking and Remaking: With Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan 2022

Breaking and Remaking
The New Photographic Voice

Instructors: Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan
6:30 – 9:00 pm Eastern via Zoom
Eight Wednesdays beginning September 14, 2022
    Classes meet every other week except that first two classes meet consecutively
Course fee: $750

      Note: Email that went out on 6.29.22 had this fee incorrectly listed at $700.

Photo by Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan

Left: Photo by Ruddy Roye from When Living Is A Protest. Right: Photo by Mary Beth Meehan from Seeing Newnan.


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Class Description

Recognizing that documentary photography has, since its inception, been an essential tool used to define, describe, and often denigrate “The Other,” particularly with regard to people of color all over the world, we believe it is time to deeply examine and reconstruct our practice. 

In this studio course, students will work with photographers Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan to consider the history of documentary photography and the ways in which it has helped to instantiate and maintain some of the most pervasively destructive stereotypes in American life. Students will then seek to embark on a photography practice that involves self-examination, historical research, contextualization, and collaboration. Before approaching the world with our cameras, we will experiment with turning our lenses on ourselves – our communities, our fears, and the impact our cultures have had on others. Our ultimate goal will be to make new photographic work that is revelatory in its discoveries, accountable to the people it represents, and effective in bringing about real social change.

The course will be part reading and discussion, part lecture, and part shooting assignments, project building, and critique. 

Roye and Meehan will deconstruct their large-scale projects, sharing with students their process, their intentions, their engagement with communities, and the outcomes of their work. Roye will begin by showing “When Living Is A Protest,” a sweeping, ongoing mirroring of African-American life, framing it in light of nationwide demonstrations for the full enfranchisement of Black people in the United States. Meehan will share a decade’s worth of public installation work, culminating with “Seeing Newnan,” a long-term, large-scale public portraiture project that upended community narratives in a small Georgia city. 

Roye and Meehan will then move into a discussion around these questions: 

  • What is a responsible practice as an artist?
  • By what process do we make work that reflects others authentically?
  • What is the line between exploitation of peoples’ suffering, and providing a contextualized view of their experiences in life? 
  • What does real collaboration look like?
  • What is the potential for involving the subjects’ reflections in their portrayals? 
  • How do we use photographic work to move beyond straight documentation into a realm where viewers’ perceptions can shift, and narratives can change? 


Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan

Though Ruddy Roye and Mary Beth Meehan come from radically different backgrounds and perspectives, their connection began at the intersection of their professional concerns.

Ruddy RoyeA native of Jamaica, Radcliffe “Ruddy” Roye has crisscrossed the country engaging on a personal level with the African-American experience, combining deep research, writing, and self-reflection to contextualize what he sees for his viewers. As one of the premier innovators and artist-activists on the Instagram platform, he has amassed 300,000 followers and was Time’s 2016 Instagram Photographer of the year. Widely exhibited and published, he has received assignments and been featured in such publications as The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic and Time.


Mary Beth MeehanMeehan, the granddaughter of immigrants to Massachusetts, has spent the past twenty-five years embedding herself in communities across the United States, combining writing, photography, and large-scale photographic installations to challenge dominant narratives and jolt people into reconsidering one another. Her large-scale portraiture installation in Newnan, Georgia, was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times on Martin Luther King weekend in 2020, and included an in-depth article on how the project helped to shift perceptions in that small town. Her first book, “Seeing Silicon Valley,” was published in 2021 by the University of Chicago Press.

Both Roye and Meehan feel it is their duty to interrogate their own preconceptions as they work to meet people on their own terms, and to make work that is born of empathy and connection. They share the goal of wanting their viewers to engage in this same inward-looking process — to notice their preconceptions, to gain insight into how they see others, and to engage in the kinds of conversations that can open their minds toward the people around them. 

They also believe that their duty is to challenge the distorted narratives that have aided in the oppression of people of color in this country for generations. They believe that image-making can be part of the practice of “representational justice” — creating new, more authentic visual narratives that honor the full humanity of the people around us — and that through this kind of deliberate process, photography truly can help change the world. 


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