China Express: Education Program


SFAI is honored to join the Lannan Foundation in bringing Carlan Tapp’s China Express to multiple venues throughout the country. China Express utilizes documentary photography as a means to explore the environmental impacts of coal, one of the most pressing issues of our time. Tapp’s stark and straightforward photographs often depict changes in the natural environment that result from social causes. In China Express, Tapp provides us with the visual story of individuals, land, waterways, and entire communities impacted by the 1,200-mile train route stretching from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to British Columbia, Canada – a route upon which multiple trains pulling more than 100 cars transport coal daily to be shipped to China.

SFAI’s education team has produced a curricular guide that utilizes China Express as a powerful springboard for standards-based curriculum in Visual Arts, Humanities, and Science.

Through observation, description, reflection, and further analysis, students are able to interact with the China Express narrative, both artistically and as a means to better understand and grapple with critical environmental and social issues. SFAI’s curricular guide provides a range of questions and resources that allow students to engage in both brief and expansive investigations into the use of documentary photography in environmental education, and into the use of coal as a debatable energy source.


China Express has been on display at The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation since December 2014, where it has been utilized as both a teaching tool and as a platform for building a sustainable workshop model that partners students at Red Cloud and throughout Pine Ridge with visiting artists. Carlan Tapp recently spent a week at Red Cloud/Heritage Center working with students and educators to examine documentary photography as a tool for social change. China Express will remain at the Heritage Center through May 2015.

Click here to view more images and narrative from China Express, and learn about Carlan Tapp’s non-profit foundation, Question of Power – Naamehnay Project, Inc.

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