Class asks kids to show their personal vision
In the warm yellow light of the darkroom at The Point, 11-year-old Brianna Rodriguez placed a blank sheet of paper in the developing tray. After she agitated the liquid for a few seconds, an image of her brother and his pit bull emerged from the chemicals.
The photograph is part of Brianna’s series of portraits of people she goes to school with. She chose this topic to explore her “Personal Vision,” the theme the International Center of Photography set for the semester at their local outpost, ICP at The Point.
Since 1997, ICP has partnered with the community center on Garrison Avenue to offer free photography classes to kids age 9-18.
Esteban Chavezlagon, 11, is in his second session. He thinks the theme Personal Vision is “interesting, because we mostly don’t think about personal vision or opinions. Mostly we base things on facts.” He likes photography because he has the freedom to say or show whatever he wants.
Esteban’s sister Guadelupe is 13 years old. She decided to join after seeing how much fun her little brother was having. Her final project is called “United Family.” One of her pictures shows a father she encountered at the mall hugging two children. “I would like my family to be like that,” she said as she reflected on the photo.
Each of the students accompanies their photos with an artist’s statement. Their teacher Kristina Pugh gives them a series of questions to help them write it, asking them to think about what their personal vision is, what it means to them and what they would like to share with others through their images.
Trying to answer this last question, Gianna Garcia, 10, replied, “I want to share the feeling people get when they’re around their homes.”
The theme of Gianna’s final project is home, but her pictures aren’t confined to her house. They were taken where she spends most of her time, including school and her grandmother’s house, as well as her own. To Gianna, all these places are home.
Home can be anywhere, because friends and family are what make a home, she says. In the same fashion, she sees everyone in her community as family, “even though they’re just friends.”
Especially in the beginning, printing images is very much a trial and error process. Students come out of the darkroom with small pieces of photo paper used to test multiple exposures resting in the center of dripping trays. They wait impatiently in line to ask Pugh what to do next. Pugh helps each student in turn to evaluate their images or to problem solve when things are going wrong.
When Rick Rodriguez, a 13-year old boy with shaggy brown hair and red tinted contact lenses, who has taken the class several times, came back to visit, Pugh put him to work helping students in the darkroom.
Before joining ICP at The Point, Rodriguez had already taken digital pictures. He thought it would be a new experience to develop and print his own images. Since being introduced to photography, he said, he finds himself looking with more care at his surroundings, wondering how various things would look in a picture. You are able to “see the beauty in different things,” he says.
Katiria Caban, 12, is in the class with her twin sister Katia, who had taken it before. Katiria’s final project is on her friends and family. These photographs represent her personal vision because they show that “friends could always have fun and they can love one another,” she said.
At the end of each session, ICP exhibits the students’ work in a final show, where they can invite their parents. Each student is given the opportunity to explain to the audience what his photographs are about. Before the student presentations, Pugh explained to the parents that “personal vision is kind of a lofty idea for pre-teens, but they really got it.”
After the show, many of the students signed up for the next session. Guadelupe Chavezmalagon is already thinking about future photo projects she might do. The first that came to mind was Nature, because, she said, it’s “the most precious thing in the world.”
After learning photography, Guadelupe says she sees the world a little bit differently, “like it’s in a different color.”
A version of this story appeared in the June 2011 issue of The Hunts Point Express.