What is wonderful about the online photography exhibition What Have We Stopped Hiding?: Expanding the Walls 2021 is that one is given entrée to the internal monologue of all the artists featured in the show. For each photographer, below their names and two images they’ve produced are printed a sort of artist’s statement, which perhaps owing to their ages (all of them are between 14 and 18) are remarkably unpretentious and earnest.

Raymundo Hernandez, “Unnoticed” (2021) (screenshot by the author)

You will find statements of straight-ahead intention like Brianna Aquino’s: “I like to capture the invisible.” Having been a photographer myself, most of their queries, declarations, and observations resonate deeply with me. Derian Herrera recognizes that he needs certain social skills to be able to put people at ease, and wonders how to attain them: “So, I ask myself: How can I get closer to people without giving them an awkward vibe?” In an off-hand proclamation, Kaylynn Brimfield describes one of the central paradoxes of photography when she says, “I want to live in the moment and take pictures that capture the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful parts of life.” How does one actually live in the moment if one is there scrutinizing and documenting the behavior of others? Perhaps Nan Goldin knows. Hapsatou Fatty surfaces another opposition that goes to the core of artmaking: “All that goes through my head is, ‘Don’t think, just take the picture.’ The more you think, the more freedom you are taking from your picture. The point of view gets smaller and more biased.” In my experience I’ve only gotten to the place of a unique, arresting image by thinking about it for hours, even days.

Derian Herrera, “Vibrant” (2021) (screenshot by the author)

In a sophisticated way, Chelsy Veras describes her recently revised attitude towards making images:

Art is supposed to be liberating, it shouldn’t be confined in a box, and it is more than okay if your art looks different or if it’s “weird.” This sudden realization made me change the way I make and approach my art. Instead of letting the fear of producing mediocre work hold me back, I started creating more frequently and intuitively.

I wish I had had this clarity at 17 years old.

Raymond Medina, “Once a Year” (2021) (screenshot by the author)

What Have We Stopped Hiding? features work by the 17 artists in last year’s cohort of the Studio Museum in Harlem’s annual program Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History, and Community. With some of the artists, their stories are impressive just in terms of how far they have come emotionally and practically to the work they showcase here. Fatoumata Traoré says: “By age seven I knew this world was hard, so sometimes I distanced myself from it. And at other times I pressured myself to face my problems.” Another artist, Lorca Peña Nissenblatt realizes that she is also a skilled writer. I think that she really is a poet: “The world is filled with clandestine treasures, and my camera picks each of them out like fingers scooping shells on the beach.”

Lorca Peña Nissenblatt, “Mother in Sunset” (2021) (screenshot by the author)

This exhibition is also joy to explore simply for the imagery. There are stunningly lovely images by many, and among them my favorites are by Raymundo Hernandez, Raymond Medina, Joel Angel Sebastian, Karthik Tambar, and Nissenblatt. They all answer the question putatively posed by the show’s title: they have stopped hiding themselves.

What Have We Stopped Hiding?: Expanding the Walls 2021 continues online through July 30 and is organized by Angelique Rosales Salgado and Zuna Maza, with Gi (Ginny) Huo, and the Expanding the Walls 2021 participants.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...