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Harlem Photographic Center, Reaching the Lives of Youth

The information in this article was provided by The Photographic Center of Harlem, founded in 1988 by photographer Jim Belfon.. Contact Information.

The goal of The Photographic Center of Harlem is to empower Harlem's youth and provide a means of building self-esteem by teaching them to seek out and document the richness of their world. Belfon, who had been training his son, Jimmy, in photography since the child was two years old, became increasingly concerned about the gap that eventually separates those who are exposed to a craft, tools and a body of knowledge, from those equally talented children who miss such opportunities. Belfon aims to demystify the creative process of photography and make it available as a tool for self-expression and as a career option to as many people as possible.

PCH provides photography workshops free of charge at its 560 Riverside Drive headquarters, which boasts a fully functional photography studio, a state-of-the-art color lab, and a computer lab where students do desktop publishing for community organizations. Children as young as five participate in classes alongside senior citizens and adults changing careers. Other workshops take place in schools around the city. Many of PCH's students decide to pursue careers in photography or related communications fields. Some have already set up small businesses, including one student who retouches old family photographs for his clients on computer. With the assistance of the Aaron Diamond Foundation, PCH was able to establish and enlarge its Central Harlem facility to serve the entire New York metropolitan area.


Jimmy (right) and his Father (center) receive honors and a Grant from Kodak.

my, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. "I saw this elderly gentleman moving all over the church taking pictures," Belfon remembers, "First in front of the altar, then up in the balcony and down again with lightning speed. Then the man saw Jimmy, who was seven years old, taking pictures and went over and embraced him. I said to myself, 'That must be Austin Hansen.'"

He always emphasized the importance of the photographer's attitude towards the subject. You do your best work when you are invisible, he would say, and you do not take photographs in church while the pastor is speaking.

Belfon is hoping to find a bigger space for PCH to accommodate more students, more instructors and more projects. He hopes to include a gallery space dedicated to Alma John, community leader and nurse, and the first African-American woman to have her own radio show. Her credo was "If you know, teach; if you don't know, learn. Each one, reach one." The new Photographic Center of Harlem will be dedicated to Austin Hansen.

You can contact PCH by phone at (212) 222-2456 and via e-mail at: photoctrharlem@mindspring.com

More stories and pics about the photographic center of Harlem as housed on the Pathfinder Web Site.

The Photographic Center of Harlem

560 Riverside Drive * New York, NY 10027 * 212-222-2456, Fax 222-6209 * Jim Belfon, Executive Director