Out My Window: 40 Years of D.C. History in Photos
For forty years, the respected community photographer and local activist Nancy Shia has lived in an apartment on the corner of Ontario Street and Columbia Road NW in Washington, D.C. During that time, she has taken countless photographs of the Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.
Ranging from a powerful series of photos of homeless people who gathered outside her window and whom she befriended and worked closely with, to numerous photos of the D.C. Latino Festival that for decades marched outside her window, Nancy Shia has compiled a significant and remarkable collection of a community not only in transition, but one on the verge of being completely forgotten and erased. Her photographs include African Americans protesting against gentrification in the 1970s, the renaming of Rabaut Park to “Parque Farabundo Marti,” the decades-long changes to Walter Pierce Park, the growing Afro-Latinx community, and the gentrification of 18th Street and Columbia Road.
Shia’s photographs are an invaluable historical archive of Central American, Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and African-American communities that deserve to be remembered and honored.
Teaching for Change received a Humanities DC Community Heritage Project Grant to place a collection of these photos online for use by D.C. area teachers and students. The website, called Out My Window, will be launched by the end of October.
You are invited to a workshop to learn about the collection from the photographer and share ideas about how to include the photos in classes on D.C. history, U.S. history, civics, and more.
The workshop will be on Saturday, October 24 from 2:00 pm EDT – 3:15 pm EDT. The session will include: interview of photographer Nancy Shia by University of Maryland professor Nancy Raquel Mirabal; small group activities with the photos; and time to ask the photographer questions about specific images. There is no fee for this workshop hosted by Teaching for Change’s D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice (DCAESJ). Sign up below. The Zoom link will be sent two days in advance of the session.
Purpose of the Out My Window Project
The aim of the Out My Window website is to archive and exhibit Nancy Shia’s collection for use by teachers, students, and community members. These photos, many of which have never before been exhibited, provide an important narrative of neighborhood activities, including local politics, work, community activism, homelessness, immigrant businesses, and the remaking of space over time.
While much has been written and exhibited concerning gentrification, we know little of how and why neighborhoods change over time. What are some of the factors that have allowed gentrification and neighborhood change to happen in the first place? What do we remember, what do we forget, and why?
Unlike other sources, there is a fixed, intransigent quality to photos and photographic archives that cannot be easily mitigated or erased with alternative narratives and interpretations. It is a source that demands to be seen, understood, and historically contextualized. Photos, as historical markers, can and do change minds.
By teaching students how to interpret visual culture, in particular photography to understand historical moments and events, we allow for an opening, a rethinking of how to see those things we often take for granted.
As students become increasingly invested in visual learning and online courses, Shia’s archive of photos can assist teachers with resources to create a different learning experience and to help students understand what are often tedious, layered, and difficult urbanist concepts of change. Students are encouraged to interpret these photos and write their own stories. And finally, the photos are a powerful reminder of the history of immigrant and communities of color in DC. An active documentation of communities and neighborhoods that are so easily erased by development and convenient forgetting.
This project, including the workshop, is hosted by Teaching for Change’s D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice (DCAESJ) with funding from Humanities DC.
Nancy Shia is a photographer, political artist, neighborhood activist, and longtime Adams Morgan resident. She received her B.A. in Sociology (with a minor in Photography) from City College of New York, her M.A. in Social Work from Columbia University, and came to Washington, D.C., in 1972 to attend Antioch School of Law (from which she received her J.D. in 1978). She has extensively documented the Adams Morgan neighborhood through photography since the early 1970s. She later worked for the Federal News Service and was elected to serve as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from 1982-1984 and again from 2007-2010.
October 18, 2020