"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Friday, May 02, 2014

high school photo scholars

Photo Scholar Emma 

Back in February and March I helped teach a class at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The students were high school photographers - recommended by their respective teachers and then hand-picked (based upon their portfolios) by a review panel made up of our teaching team at the museum. The class was built around Robert Frank's "The Americans" and the kids had to shoot as "outsiders" in various situations of their own choosing. The students had critiques with each other, the others teachers on the team and from me. They were treated to presentations by both April Watson and Keith Davis from the museum. And they learned, thanks to Natalie Boten and her team (Molly Hess and Mary Susan Albrecht), how to write a good artist statement (not an easy thing to do). In the end, they each created a small body of work based on the theme of outsider shooting. 

Last night was the opening reception for their show at the museum. It was great fun to see the work on the wall and to see such a big crowd taking it all in. Everyone was impressed. These kids have a lot of talent, and many will be on their way to art school or university in the fall to continue studying photography. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of their work in the future!

Please take some time to look at these selected images and read the accompanying statements. I think you'll agree there is a lot of good work being made in the high schools of Kansas City and environs. Congratulations to their teachers (many of whom I had the pleasure of meeting last night), to their families for supporting the camera habit and to the photo scholars themselves. 

And thanks to Natalie for talking me into teaching for the first time. I told the kids last night I learned way more than they did. I've heard teachers say that before, and I always thought it was kind of corny, but now I know how true it can be.

The body of work I have created illustrates my personal experiences with individuals in my life and community. The images reflect themes of cooperation, isolation, camaraderie, and compassion. I have captured scenes of individuals in close proximity to one another who simultaneously express a profound sense of loneliness. I am fascinated with my neighborhood, my city, and all of the people that inhabit it. My portraits are just my observations of the human condition as I see it, up close and personal. - Andrew Hartnett

The anxiety I get from unfamiliar situations drives me to make my images. I’ve found I’m very drawn to the things and places that make me uncomfortable. I get this undying curiosity to get up close and explore regardless of unfamiliarity. The need I have to break out of my ever unchanging routine provokes my curiosity. The unfortunate thing about curiosity is doing one thing is simply not enough; you need more, I need more. I look at uncertainties as somewhat of a challenge, I see something I don’t understand and my lack of understanding causes these feelings of anxiety, this is when I am provoked. My images tell the story of my undying curiosity. - Bailey Becvar

Growing up in suburbia has hidden from me the true intrigue of rural America; the hard-working rural America that is untainted by the guise of its pop-culture portrayal in my mind. This collection of images was taken on a short, eye opening trip to a farm near Washington, Kansas where Louis and Iola Carter still maintain a fully operational farm despite their age. The images are aimed to capture the peaceful solidarity found in their simple lives and to express the small joys like companionship primarily through macro portraiture. - Drew Zerbe

The environment that surrounds a specific person or place motivates me to tell my subject’s story. It is in the space surrounding my subject that I discover the real identity of what I am photographing. The small details that surround a person speak volumes of whom that individual is and where they have come from. Being able to enter someone’s space and show interest in what they do allows me to photograph a person intimately, yet indirectly. By allowing my viewers to see parts of what I saw I hope to show a piece of who my subject is through photographs of things that make up who they are. 
Kat Zahner

The overall sentimental attachments and wondrous shapes of stones is what first attracted me to the Olathe Cemetery. The eerie atmosphere of a grave yard is forbidden land to me. It is a place I have been blessed to be unfamiliar with, and a place I hope to stay that way. It is a place filled with memories and mementos for loved ones who have been lost. I lost one of my best friends in 9th grade, but I never had to watch him be buried. So as I stepped into this cemetery, shivers went down my spine as my heart ache for the rows and rows of stones representing those who have passed away. It was important to me to face my fears of death and loss and to remember those who I have personally parted ways with. Saying goodbye is ultimately the hardest part of life we all have to face and it was time for me to stop avoiding it. - Heather Burton

The past is beautifully inspiring to me, especially since we are all locked in a forward motion. Each decade passes by with its own elegance, leaving behind memories I’ll never be able to feel or know. I photograph the past because it’s the buildup of generations giving to the future. Their legacy is laid out before us, and I have learned to stop, look, and appreciate. From color choice to cropping, it’s for my viewers to recognize the value of what has been granted to us from a previous time. - Bridget Wray

Feeling invisible is something we all suffer at some point in our lives, making us feel mundane and unnoticeable. In my work I show how special an individual can be, even a stranger you might not even give another glance. I think a person’s true uniqueness comes out when they are not being noticed and going along with their day. Not only are a person’s thoughts shown through their facial expressions, but also their body positions. Some people easily show their emotions, while others have learned to hide it. My photos capture the distinctiveness of each person and how they portray themselves to the people around them. This may be from the way they walk, hold an object, or communicate to another person. I want to show the individuality of everyone and everything they do, and let people know that they are noticed. - Delaney Rundell

I am a suburban young adult who lives in the midst of Johnson County. Where I live, the buildings are small, alike, and boring. Because of seeing the same-old, same-old, I went to a place that is unique to me—the city. It is an area that I occasionally visit but I have never gone there to wander around. There, I stood next to buildings hundreds of feet off the ground and I looked like a tiny five foot ant compared to any one of them. As I took in their various characteristics, the buildings broke away from the humdrum repetition that I seem to see every day. While I explored the scenery even more, I found that I constantly kept my head up in awe at the skyscrapers. I have a strange attraction to the city, even though I rarely visit. The city makes me wonder because it represents my dreams. It represents where I want my future to be. - Zanah Maggio

Photography has helped me notice the little things in life. My photos are primarily of nature or landscapes, and being able to notice the small stuff has changed my perspective. I am able to notice the patterns, textures, and shadows that haven’t been touched or altered. Photography has helped me step out of my comfort zone; I now talk to people that I might not have before or go somewhere that might be scary. It helps break the boundaries that people have. - Reagan Key

With this group of photographs I decided to show a side of America that has been replaced. Society is forever evolving into something bigger and better. As society changes, objects that were left behind are looked at as being no longer important. On this path of destruction the existence of identity is dying and leaving these areas to fend for themselves. Light is often thought to symbolize life. The light shown in each photograph represents this life the areas have developed separate from today’s society. From an outsider’s perspective, this life is often overlooked. But for this group of images I wanted to show the lives that still exist in areas that are no longer inhabited. - Ashley Castillo

My photos are about being an outsider — not only that, but they are about being uncomfortable in my surroundings. Forcing myself to be in an unsettling environment produced cohesive photos with a sense of tension or uneasiness, both in open, expansive spaces, and closed, inaccessible spaces. The closed off, confined perspectives of my photos reflect my mentality while taking photos, of being focused on my work, and ignoring the outside world—the world which scares me and makes me uneasy—the unknown. Through photography, I can take what unnerves me and control it. Through this control, I can know my subject. - Nina Friesen

My photography depicts an array of emotions one encounters upon entering an infrequently visited neighborhood, ranging from a state of rejection to one of acceptance. I often happen upon places or situations in which, by the rules of society, I should feel estranged or uncomfortable, but my experience is quite the contrary. Even if I feel somewhat shut out at first, it is only due to the fact that what I am experiencing is new, but then all that I am left with is the chance to explore. Though I may be placed in a different area of the city, in a different social class with different norms, life is actually eerily similar in many respects wherever you go. Unfamiliarity should not stand as an obstacle but rather an opportunity to widen boundaries. By including varied subjects, narrative and not, I hope to encourage viewers to consider all terms of encountering boundaries so they, too, can pursue unknown territory with a sense of connection. - Emma Girson

As an immigrant from Russia, my view on America has never been typical. I have experienced two vastly different cultures firsthand, and feel equally out of place in both. I grew up in a country where misery and poverty were prominent as the societal norm, and the transition to the United States, a place so colored by a false feeling of carefree joy and commercial prosperity, was overwhelming. I feel like an outsider almost everywhere I go, and I cannot relate to the American dream. Since I’ve never truly felt like an American, I depict the country as a foreigner would; vast, proud, disparate, and often uninviting. My work often has themes of pervasive consumerist culture, erroneous grandeur, and isolation. I depict people in solitude or alienation, despite their favorable circumstances and collective ideology, to reflect my own perceptions and experiences. - Veronica Loskutova

Natalie wore this fabulous camera skirt to the opening

One of the first reviews of the show came in yesterday from the director of the museum, Julian Zugazagoitia:  

"I just walked the photo exhibition and was really taken by its diversity and quality. Also by the artists statements. Very strong. I particularly connected with the statement from the young Russian emigrant who expresses her feeling to be assimilated neither here nor there; the perfect position for the observer, the photographer…"

The exhibition will be on view in the Ford Learning Center at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art until June 29th. I hope you'll make some time to check out.

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