Lely Constantinople Shares Story Behind Inside Out Photography Installation

The Upper School recently installed a photography exhibition titled “Heart of Our Community,” featuring large portraits of Upper School students, teachers, faculty and staff. The photos are pasted on walls outside of the Wannan Gym, the Health Services building and the Arts Center. Lely Constantinople, Upper School photography teacher, initiated and led the project.

To organize the display, Upper School photography classes collaborated with the worldwide Inside Out Project. Founded by French photographer JR, the Inside Out Project is a global initiative to “help communities turn their untold stories into a work of public art,” according to its website.

Constantinople comments on JR and how she is “endlessly inspired by and engaged with any artist who is doing something outside of the mainstream culture.”

JR aims to uplift communities all over the world and help them express themselves meaningfully through photography. Constantinople also elaborated on JR’s work with the Inside Out Project. “JR started the nonprofit to help communities all over the world realize an issue and an action for themselves, and then he teaches you how to execute it yourself,” she explained.

In Sidwell’s installation, photos of community members ranged from smiles to silly faces to stoic seriousness. “Our project is about community representation. We wanted to encapsulate the joy that a lot of kids have,” senior Natalie Wise, one of the project’s organizers, shared.

Constantinople agreed, adding, “I hope people just feel more welcome and have the face of the community looking back at them.” Wise hopes that the portraits will remind everyone of the Sidwell community’s support.

“If [people] ever feel stressed and unhappy, they can look to the wall, see all these familiar faces and remember that the Sidwell community is there for them,” Wise said.

To create such a meaningful display, students used interpersonal skills when working with candidates. Constantinople discussed the photography process. “It’s a collaboration between yourself, the photographer and the person you’re engaging with. That’s a skill, that’s a huge skill,” she explained.

The project has been ongoing for two years due to disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project required dedication, as students overcame numerous logistic hassles and difficulties, including scheduling candidates, collecting permission forms and reaching out to the broader Sidwell community.

On the challenging nature of the project, Constantinople said, “It was a months-long logistical nightmare. We had shot over a hundred people. It’s hard work, and it’s really disciplined labor.”

Although the project required several months’ worth of dedication, it has brought joy to the community. The project honors Mikey Wood, a student who passed away in September.

Junior and photography student Elson Bankoff shared her favorite part of the project, emphasizing the sense of community that it has fostered: “It’s a really nice tribute to Mikey where it’s not just him, but it’s his whole community behind him and around him, and I think that’s really special.”

Meanwhile, Wise’s favorite part of the project was taking the pictures. “Everyone was so hesitant to make weird faces, but then when people got into it, they got really into it,” she said. “That was always fun to watch. Also, just seeing the finished project was really rewarding.”

Constantinople reflected on the project as a whole, saying, “A nine-month project like that is incredibly difficult to execute, and I’m proud that the school let us do it, that they believed in it, that they supported it and that the kids stepped up in the end to make it happen.”