Friday was our second to last day at CityArts, and strangely enough, it felt as though we had finally fallen into a rhythm. Even with the difficult driving it took to get through the St. Patrick’s day crowds we arrived on time and energized for the group of students. Our positive spirits and adaptable attitudes were clearly contagious and a quick game of “Wah” had the say off to a great start.
I initially took Community Lens because of the community involvement aspect associated with it. I knew almost nothing about photography coming in, and I am sure to this day that my skillset is not nearly close to the capabilities of many of my classmates, however, I wanted this unique experience and involvement with youth and to add another understanding of storytelling to my tool-belt. After years of being involved in service, I understand the reciprocal nature of community work. However, the spirit at CityArts amazed me. Although I am learning a lot from class, the drive, knowledge, energy, and capabilities of the Young Artists has allowed me to grow both in my photography skills and in my youth development abilities. Just this week my partner Maya showed me some amazing pictures of her own. We were able to critically analyze all of them and really get to know each other just through photography. I am beginning to better understand the power of storytelling through these interactions weekly, but this week really embodied that for me.
For the beginning activity, the Young Artists were asked to pick out one picture that they liked because of the appearance of the picture, and then one picture that they felt represented them or they saw themselves in. This sparked some deep conversation. Maya picked a picture of a mural because she liked the artwork and the aesthetics of the picture. For the one that represented her she chose one where only the shadows of two people were visible. When asked to explain why that one represented her, she stated that she’s “kind of a shadows person.” When I asked her later what that meant she said she is quieter than most and doesn’t like a whole lot of attention. The ability for them to pick the pictures and then verbalize why they chose them allowed for them to see themselves in their photography. Noah stated he liked one of his because there was a smiling man. The other students had their own reasons as well. Each Providence College student was able to adapt to the pictures each student had chosen to make the experience unique to them. This is one thing I love about having one Providence College student for each Young Artist. We are really afforded the opportunity to connect with them daily on a personal level, and to guide and support them individualistically.
When Maya said she saw herself in the shadows picture, we immediately went outside to make pictures with interesting shadows. The lesson planning team telling us to try to replicate the elements the Young Artists identified in their pictures as something they had liked really assisted us in our adventures. We found a second playground and Maya started taking photography risks, taking pictures through the holes of the playset and down the slide to look at the different shadows and perspectives. Through identifying herself and being able to see herself in a picture, she was abler to take risks. This exemplified the importance of empowerment and self-expression to young people. Oftentimes I feel as though young people are treated differently because they do not have the same attention span, poise, or experience as older people do, but that does not mean their voices should not be heard, celebrated, and appreciated. I think even as someone who is only twenty-two, it is very easy to forget the days when I was not taken so seriously because of my age. But, I get lost in my days and too often think my way is best in order to get something done, not looking around to hear the other voices. I think in a working world that is not uncommon. It reminded me to take a step back and to listen to all there is to listen to because of the value of every voice. Listening does not just have to be with our ears, but also with our eyes and through art. What happened at CityArts this week showed me the magic of storytelling as well as made me incredibly excited for our upcoming exhibition!
Maddie Boffi, Providence College Class of 2017, Public & Community Service Major, Sociology Major
Far too often do we begin our photographic pursuits lost in the envy of another's photos. Instead of honing our technique and execution, we focus on the stuff we don't have. Stuff... that's all it is... just stuff. Whether it be the lens to get that creamy smooth bokeh in the background, the full-frameMPs necessary for crisp resolution, or the flash necessary to light a picture, we all do it and its ruining our imagination. This is why I think kids can reinvigorate our sense of imagination and fun.
In the past few weeks CityArts has become a think-tank for the young artists and their corresponding PC pals. Often we see students thoughtfully look at their pictures and stop just long enough to revel in the joy and the smiles of their subjects, or perhaps notice something we were too blind to see, while our eye involuntarily scavenge the small screens for perfect composition and symmetry. In one case an energetic student ran up to each Providence student lauding the composition in his photo. He drew our attention to the face engrained in the architecture along the side of the building, which comprised of two window eyes and a door for a mouth. Clearly it was more exciting for him just to find than to beautifully portray, and even more enthralling to him that we didn't find it before him and I'm glad that he did; because, in more ways than one, his discovery marks the great hallmark of true photographic skill, this ability to point out the beauty in front of someone. It's a scavenger hunt of course. But it's not about quantity of quality photographs. Rather, it's about inspiring and that's why we're so hell-bent on approval (perhaps even if we do not say this outright). So how do we then enhance ours and the students' experience by working with what we have? Well, this past week we did so by teaching the students how to use natural light to illuminate our subjects.
As the semester goes on we have more and more light during our time at CityArts. More light also means more energetic kids looking for any semblance of an excuse to get outside. When the sun is low-enough on the horizon we call this, "golden hour," photography, which gets its origins from the warm golden hues that heavily illuminate subjects of interest. A few young artists managed to catch PC students taking advantage of this time period and out of interest walked over to see. As we encouraged them to advantage themselves this very short window of opportunity, many were very elated with the change in their photographic composition. One PC student peaked over their shoulders and saw the photo on their tiny canon point-and-shoots, and let slip out a, "oh sh**" they take better photos then I do, and I've been at this for a while." Inevitably, in that moment, my partner and I realized: you combine the innovation and imagination of a young child (perhaps our own "inner kid") with the resourcefulness of a seasoned photographer and you have a potent mix. All that other stuff falls by the wayside...
Danny Hentz, Providence College Class of 2017, Global Studies Major, Evolutionary Biology & Ecology Minor
Friday was probably the most beautiful day of the new year weather-wise which was great at a certain level, incredibly worrying at another. Great because we could take photos outside with the young artists providing the opportunity to experiment with lighting and angles in their shots; on the other hand, it is not supposed to be near 65°F near the end of February and some of the young artists would rather play outside than take photos. I don’t really blame them either, it’s what I would have wanted to do too especially when on break from school. I think these two factors played into the semi-rambunctious atmosphere the class had and why we had less young artists participate than other weeks. The week’s lesson was focused around portraiture: how to identify portraits and what needs to be in a portrait for it to be considered one. I felt that the activity we did to get this idea across was, on the whole, successful. Throughout the room, we put up portraits and non-portraits like landscapes having the young artists identify their favorite one, describe why it was a portrait and why it was their favorite. After that we moved on to our portrait-taking activity – those of themselves, their buddy that they were paired with, of one of us PC students, group portraits – outside to represent those persons’ personalities. There were some great photos taken, however I think we also did lose some of their attention because the young artists wanted to play on a nearby playground incredibly badly. Reflecting on this, I think striking that balance between giving the artists their freedom and also accomplishing our goals for the exhibition is still something we are working on; it’s a great sign that they feel comfortable enough to joke, talk, and play with us, those relationships are incredibly important. Yet, I believe they can also sense when we are hesitant to restrict them to doing what we must. Then, the artists can lose focus and run over us. Despite this, each of the young artists took some great portraits and were able to articulate how it represented the person in the photo as well as what artistic elements of the photo they enjoyed most.
The experiences I have had so far while serving at ¡CityArts! make me reminisce aboutthe days when I was a student just like them in one of these classes as well as the times when I taught small, informal drawing classes for younger kids when I was in the later years of high school. I think that old experience is coming back to me, especially after this week in terms of what to do and not to do in these classes with younger people. I saw the young artist I was working with fluctuating between interest and disinterest in taking photos during the day; he wanted to play basketball. So, I incentivized his taking of photos: for every three shots he took, he would have to take three portraits which worked out for a good portion of the time. Sometimes this type of persuasion can be an incredibly effective quid pro quo. Maybe this is a way to find balance without having to turn to heavy handedness. Unfortunately, when we had to return to the classroom to discuss the photos, he became downtrodden because he still wanted to play and didn’t want to participate in our group debrief. I sat with him, tried to coax him to share, but I’ve learned that sometimes pushing can do more harm than good especially when someone is upset. So, I then decided to sit next to him for the remainder of the time. It reminded me of how difficult it was to teach youth and maintain their engagement in the learning. Still shaking off the rust, but really excited about the next few weeks.
See this week's lesson plan below!
Stephen Skelly, Providence College Class of 2017, Sociology & Global Studies Double Major.
Friday’s visit to CityArts showed a smaller turnout of young artists. With a smaller group, it gave us the opportunity to mix and share our time amongst the young artists. I floated around to a few different students, some of whom I hadn't had the chance to interact with yet. Having been four times to CityArts, I could tell the young artists were becoming noticeably more comfortable with us. Although I find it a great that we are creating stronger relationships and bonds, I also find this to be a bit challenging. We are walking into uncharted and complicated territory of how to maintain structure, while also giving the young artist’s space to engage with the cameras, photography while also having fun. I, myself, am still learning photography. My artistic eye is still developing alongside the young artists. That is why I have a hard time knowing my place. I don’t feel as though I am equipped enough to teach these young artists, but what I feel I can do is create relationships and encourage. There are times when the young artists take photos that they are incredibly proud of and it's in those moments that I am honored to a part of the learning environment we're building together. I wouldn’t call myself a teacher, but instead a friend. Then again I wonder if this is the wrong mentality to have when going into class. The more comfortable they get with us, the freer they feel to goof around making it a bit chaotic at times. How do I walk that fine line between friend and teacher or mentor? The arts are not something I feel should be forced upon anyone. So I am conflicted when the young artists would rather play soccer or basketball instead of taking pictures. How do I go about incorporating taking pictures into other activities that they would like to be doing?
In our slightly unorganized dynamic of the day due to the lower attendance, it was hard for myself and the young artists to stay focused on the photography. There was one young artist in particular who was especially rambunctious. While I enjoyed hanging out with him along with some of the other PC students, he wasn’t very interested in taking photos. When going outside he was more interested in playing around on the playground. I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle the situation, whether I should have redirected his attention or just continued letting him have fun. Upon returning to the classroom, while doing our reflection, I wasn’t sure that this young artist would have much to share with the class. I was pleasantly surprised when it came his turn and he was so visibly proud of the photo that he was sharing with the class. It wasn’t a photo he took himself, instead it was a photo taken of him, but he was able to articulate what exactly he liked about the photo in a way I had never seen him do before. It reassured me that maybe the action of taking photos does not always need to be the primary focus. It is equally important that we are creating relationships with the young artists so that they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and themselves with us. Moving forward, I am excited to see the progress that this young artist and the other’s make in being able to analyze and express their photos with everyone.
Gretchen Schissel, Providence College Class of 2017, Global Studies Major & French Minor
Public & Digital Relations - Dee, Gretchen, Danny & Stephen