A few years ago, my son, then about four, was walking down the hall at his school when he was struck by a car.
He went to get help but was stopped by another student who said she had just seen a rat with a camera in its mouth.
When he asked her what it was, she said it was a camera she had seen in the toilet of her local park.
“I told her to come and have a look,” he said.
“She didn’t want to go to the police.”
They both walked back into the classroom, but the boy was taken away by the police, who kept him in their police van for hours.
The incident inspired a student to start a project called Cotton Rat, in which students are taught to cut cardboard with scissors, then photograph the result.
They have now created about 100 rat-sized pieces and sent them to the Smithsonian Institution.
It is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
The research is part of a broader project to build an entire collection of historical photographs of the US, using the images as a reference for artists and historians.
“This is the first time I’ve had the chance to go out in the field and photograph anything in the United States,” said Professor David Ewing of the Museum of Fine Arts and Photography, who has been working on the project.
The students are also using the project to help teach themselves the skills needed to photograph and study the US.
“The project was really important for me, and it’s something I’ve never done before,” said David.
“It’s something that we’ve been trying to learn from a visual perspective and a storytelling perspective.”
He said the students are trying to incorporate the work of the late historian and journalist Norman Mailer, who used the project as inspiration for his book, The Art of American Photography, published in 1996.
Professor Mailer was a critic of America’s political and economic systems and an activist for African-Americans, who called the US a “white society”.
Professor Mailers work, which focused on how America’s system of race and class intersected with racial injustice and oppression, inspired students to create a photographic project about America.
“What’s important is that they’re able to see and understand the US as a country that’s more racially diverse than most people think,” said Associate Professor Robert Sargent.
“They can see it through the lens of what Mailer saw.”
The students have spent much of their time trying to work out what they think of the project, but it’s been challenging.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get the images out,” said Rebecca Cawthon, a student who has also worked on the camera project.
“But we’re trying.”
She said they have had to spend a lot of time on editing the images and editing them out, but that she and her students have also found inspiration in the way Mailer wrote.
“You can see a lot more of what’s going on in this image,” she said.
The project was launched on 1 December and has now been running for eight months.