At Bellaire High School in the fall of 2020, photographer and educator Rebecca Kiger asked her students to come up with questions for themselves that would become the basis of their personal photography projects.
Jessica Rosen, a junior at the Ohio school, wrote, “Do you want to grow up like you were raised?”
She ended up making a photo book of her family, which “tells about how different everything is now than when I was younger”.
Over the past year, students across the country have adjusted to distance learning, but not all students have been encouraged to process their emotions as part of the “new normal.” But that’s exactly what 19 students from four youth photography courses across the country did. While learning technical photography skills, they were also encouraged to focus on personal projects, prompts, and assignments in order to cope with their current lives.
Giving students the space to explore their feelings within the pandemic can be attributed to the environment created by their teachers.
“I feel safe with all of these people,” Jessica Rosen said of Kiger’s class.
Some of the first encounters of these students while learning photography began via a Zoom Room in the midst of the pandemic. All were taught by professional photographers navigating independent teaching and work spaces.
In Detroit, the Remote ally project – animated by photographers Khary mason and Romain Blanquart of Capture the belief and Erik Paul Howard of Inside southwest Detroit – started in March 2020 to create a platform for young people “to deal with what they were going through after being forced into isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Mason and Blanquart both said they were primarily a mentoring program “that uses photography as a tool to engage young people to help them connect and understand where they are”.
“Visual literacy is so important. It’s his own intelligence. Howard said. “And I think mentoring plays a particularly important role in developing this visual literacy.”
Photographer Abigail Harrison run the West slope photojournalism workshop at Paonia High School. While learning the ins and outs of the camera, Harrison also guides his students through ethical questions: “How are we good listeners?” How do we capture a scene without disturbing it? How do we recognize that we are changing everything we touch? “
Paonia High School student Apollo Rodriguez recognizes the different cultures and opinions that permeate the city.
“[Paonia] is a mix of so many opposing and sometimes conflicting people, but it’s always an ever-changing and working area, ”Rodriguez said.“ I think most places are that way, and everywhere is unique, Paonia in particular. . Thanks to photography, I think I had an easier time expressing the culture and showing the people in my school on a level that you couldn’t get through simple description. “
Kage Coxwell found photography to be an opportunity to explore the space he already inhabits.
“Spend time with [my] family at the ranch is a great feeling that never really goes away for some of us. Every year more and more family ranches are taken over by big companies and it breaks my heart. The more ranches that become businesses, the fewer families there are that teach generations and generations what ranch life was like in their day. ”
In Kettering, Ohio, outside of Dayton, photographer Amy lynn powell teaches Photo I, II and College Credit Plus courses at Kettering Fairmont High School. Powell’s motto is, “It’s an art class. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
She says, “As an art teacher, I don’t want to add to the pandemic stress that students are currently facing.”
Powell’s photography classes were a long way off. Until class in person resumed, she taught via Zoom and her students chose to keep their cameras off during class.
“Until they open [in January] they didn’t have to turn on their Zoom cameras, so I basically [didn’t] know these children. I hope I had a good impact on them. It was hard for me and I think hard for them, ”said Powell.
“Our district is really very concerned about the mental health and well-being of our students and whether or not they’ve learned everything you were supposed to learn this year,” she said.
Powell said she gave her students her home address so they could take the point-and-shoot cameras to complete their projects.
“They came and took them off my front porch. Some of them picked them up from school. And a few kids that couldn’t have them, I just dropped them off where they live,” Powell explained.
“I really thought it was important to give them hands-on experience, because they had so much screen time, being on their computers, and I didn’t want them to shoot just with their cell phones. I’m very lucky to work in a school district that will support this stuff, ”she said.
In the Appalachians, across The collaboration of rural arts and the Ohio Arts Council, photographer Rebecca Kiger teaches at Bellaire High School on the Ohio-West Virginia border. This year, the students fanzine documents their experiences during the pandemic.
This is where Jessica Rosen started her question-based personal photography project.
The question that sparked Maddie Beckett’s personal project is, “Where do chemical imbalances come from and how do only some people get them?”
“I still don’t know why this is happening,” Maddie said. “In my experience, it’s a bit sucky and with a lot of other people I wish there was a real cure. I’m learning to look at it in a different way. feel like I haven’t learned that much about chemical imbalances because it’s something a doctor should explain, but I feel like photography is a way to look at it from a different perspective and better understand yourself. ”
Jessica Rosen found out that she doesn’t take “the same photos as before. I could look at everything in my room right now, but if I pull out a camera I can make it look so different from what it looks like. right now. Lighting changes everything. You can take pictures of anything and it could be beautiful if you do it right. ”
The pandemic, through the eyes of American youth
Through the efforts of these four initiatives and others like them, “the whole pandemic has been documented primarily through the eyes of children,” said student Stephanie Ruiz of the Remote Ally Project. Inside southwest Detroit in November 2020.
At first, Rahmyza Muhammad had doubts about joining the project. “I thought it would be boring to take pictures in our own homes. I thought, who would want to see pictures of what I see every day? ” she said.
“But after doing the first [photography] quick, I thought about how much fun this could be and also learned that you can connect remotely as if you were in person. “
Tanis Brock of Kettering Fairmont High School agreed with Muhammad.
“Almost everything I know about photography I learned in Ms. Powell’s class. In class we learned about the history of photography, some editing techniques and even had the chance to explore on the go. ‘Using a black and white instant film camera,’ Brock mentioned.
Faith Frazier from Paonia, Colorado, used photography to see more deeply into her community.
“While our county was under a stay-at-home order, everything went wrong. I remember driving on Grand Avenue and it was practically empty. Everything seemed way too quiet. Even during the pandemic, however, the community has always found ways to support one another, ”Frazier said.“ People would take their instruments out into their backyards, often playing together. I remember at 8 o’clock every night everyone was going out and screaming or making a lot of noise. ”
“Photography is really important and it really affects every aspect of your life,” said Oluwaseyi Akintoroye, of The Remote Ally Project, when asked what she wanted people to know about photography.
“When I got into fifth grade, I really didn’t expect it to influence my life so much. I would say it’s a good thing for kids.”