TEDxUCLA 2011: Minding, Mining, Mending, Mapping

Smiles behind the camera


About Rachel 

Rachel is a native Brooklynite and has taught and lived in Los Angeles, NYC and abroad throughout the last 10 years. Rachel has her Masters of Fine Arts in photography and art education from Pratt Institute (2009), and her Bachelors of Arts from Bard College in visual anthropology (2005).

Rachel is the Director of The Slideluck Youth Initiative, a non-profit after school photography program that fosters creative expression and empowers students through the power of photography and multimedia storytelling. She is overseeing 6 programs in East New York Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx, Downtown Brooklyn, East Los Angeles and Utah.

Rachel continues to teach visual arts and photography in NYC and abroad.


Hello, my name is Rachel Langosch and I am the founding art teacher at a school, a charter school in South Central Los Angeles. So to help me out, it would actually really help if everybody could not pay attention at all and just have side conversations, I’ll feel right at home.

So my story really begins back when I was a kid. I was obsessed with photography. There really wasn’t any pictures taken of me without a camera in my hand. And this really led me to study it for my entire life. I went to the Fame high school in New York City, and then I went to Bard College, studied photography.

And then while I was in college, I watched this documentary Born into Brothels, which really highlighted the restorative qualities of art for kids. And I saw this film and it just really hit home for me and really made me feel like this is what I want to be doing with my life and with my career.

So fast forward to graduate school, I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, got my Master’s of Fine Arts and Photography and Art Education and I knew I wanted to teach. So I shortly after moved to Los Angeles and got hired at KIPP Academy of Opportunity, which KIPP was actually featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman and was one of the few charter initiatives in the country that’s solving major issues in public education. It goes by the philosophy that longer school days, an extended school year, and super-committed and dedicated teachers will change the face of education.

So I began and I was given a closet of paints, and most days I was covered in paint, and I was teaching in a math classroom, I had my art on a cart, and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. And my students? Not super excited to be there. I wasn’t super excited about teaching arts and crafts, and neither were they.

And it was really hard for me to motivate my students, to really get them to be involved, because probably I wasn’t that excited about it. So even when they were making art, it wasn’t great art. And I was happy they were having fun, but it really, I felt like I was capable of more.

So I really just kind of stepped back for a minute and I was thinking: you know, I’m a photographer. I love taking pictures. And I feel like I am capable of giving this gift to my students. But how am I supposed to do this when I have no money at all?

So I took the very small school budget that I had and I put it towards buying three cameras, and that was great. Now I have three cameras. Except one more problem: I have an entire class of students, and only three cameras. So I couldn’t really teach a photography class. Yeah.

So I went to my principal and I said, “Look, I feel like I’m going to be the best teacher if I can teach photography. How can we make this happen?” And she very immediately just said, “You know, you need to go on this website, DonorsChoose.org. It’s this fantastic website that links up public school teachers with people who are looking to give a lot or a little money to projects. Then the students write letters back to the donors and everybody’s happy.”

So I did that. I wrote up my project proposal, I posted it on social media networks and asked my friends to retweet and repost my project. And literally in under two weeks, my entire project was funded. I had cameras for my classroom, and I was really, really excited. Now I can finally teach photography.

So I handed out the cameras and it didn’t even occur to me that most of my students had never even had their own camera. Some of them had never even taken a picture before. So this was a really exciting moment. My students were working together, they were excited to be learning, they were eating up what I had to say, they were responding. And it was really one of my most proud moments, to be a part of this process where my students were blossoming and they were growing and they were learning and I was facilitating this process. They were, they were really making great pictures and they were trying hard and they were working together. And I was just really proud to be part of it.

The other extraordinary thing that happened was even when they were supposed to be outside and playing basketball and eating lunch with their friends, they were begging me to come inside and look at the pictures they’d taken and talk to me about the pictures they had taken and learn about Photoshop and editing, and I was just blown away.

So all the slides we’re going to see from here on out are actually all of the student work.

So my students started taking these pictures. The first assignment I gave them was to document their world. So I asked them to be an ethnographer. I wanted them to take pictures of the colors, the textures. I wanted them to take pictures of what things looked like in their worlds. And they were doing it. They were making phenomenal images. And they were letting me into their worlds. They were, they were showing me these deeply resonant moments, and they were growing. They were gaining self-confidence.

And I could see that they were feeling empowered by these moments. I would get parent phone calls that would say, the parents would come to me and say, “You know, you’re you’re doing this great job. My kid is really excited about the photographs they’re taking.” And they were, they were doing it. It was fantastic.

So I guess it’s my hope that with this work that I’m doing, that these kids will be able to use this as a tool to get them not only to and through college, but this can be something that can excite their brothers and their sisters and their families to help them to continue with their artistic endeavors.

But mostly it’s my hope that this program can really help my students to feel empowered and can help them through hard times when they have a tough time in life. And that’s it. Thanks.