During Hurricane Harvey, Maya Kanani watched from her bedroom window as 14 inches of water rushed from the streets of her flooded Bellaire neighborhood and into her family's home. Using her DSLR, she began to document scenes of the National Guard pulling evacuees onto a truck, and not long after the storm passed, she snapped pictures of crumbling drywall.
“I just hope that people feel that sense of community that we felt after Harvey hit,” says the Bellaire High senior, “and that they’ll understand that the pictures aren’t meant to remind us of how hard the experience was, but rather what we got out of it and how great the people of the community can bring themselves to be.”
Kanani’s images are a few of the 64 selected photographs on display as part of Eye on Houston: High School Documentary Photography. Each year the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston puts out a call to high schoolers to capture the Bayou City through the eyes of the next generation. Not surprisingly, this 23rd edition places a special emphasis on the hurricane that affected thousands of people across Texas.
This is the third year the MFAH chose Kanani's work for Eye on Houston. She first dabbled in photography watching her dad take pictures on trips, although it wasn’t until a high school photography class that she began to learn more about cameras. Today, she's involved in her school newspaper, the Three Penny Press, and plans to study journalism after graduation. “Photography allows me to take the images in my head and put them on a screen or on paper, which is why I love it so much,” she says. “I've always been interested in writing for the same reason, and documentary photography allows me to tie the two subjects together.”
That’s not to say all the exhibition's photos are Harvey-related. Previously named Eye on Third Ward, the original mandate was to encourage Yates High School students to document their neighbors and community. Over the years, the exhibition became Eye on Houston to involve even more schools, with this year marking the first time all of HISD has participated.
“I can definitely say I think this year was going to be extra hard for the curators and for their staff to choose amongst all of the images just because of all of the major events that Houston has experienced, such as Harvey and the Astros winning the World Series,” says Bellaire High School art teacher Kelly Quarles.
Quarles says many students, like Kanani, harnessed the storm as a chance to document an important event. Others gravitated toward quieter, more mundane scenes, such as children playing in a neighborhood pool, a barber shop, and a “Houston Strong” mural. Thanks to a day off for the Astros parade, students captured vibrant shots at the Astros’ Victory Parade, and students flocked to last weekend’s Women’s March to begin taking photographs for next year’s exhibition.
“I always find it extremely interesting to see from their point of view all of the different things that Houston has going on and all of the different communities,” Quarles says. “We are the most diverse city in the nation, and I think that that’s really great, and I personally always love seeing really excellent work from teenagers.”
Eye on Houston: High School Documentary Photography, Jan. 24–June 24. Free. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Visitors Center, 5600 Fannin St. 713-639-7300. More info at mfah.org.