Local students ‘Picture the future’ with Campus Y

| Art Director

Two members of the “Picture the Future” campus program point out features of a student’s photography portfolio. The exhibition represented a semesters worth of work for the middle and high school-aged participants.

Almost everyone can agree that some forms of photography are objectively horrible—instagrammed pictures of salad, self-portraits taken in uncomfortably close proximity to a toilet, and anything in sepia immediately come to mind. But what makes a “good” picture is a bit harder to pin down. In order to better understand this arbitrary distinction, I pulled out all the (f) stops, and stopped by the Campus Y-sponsored photography exhibition, “Picture the Future.”

The master photographers, it turns out, are eighth and ninth graders from nearby Lift for Life Academy, an independent charter school in the city of St. Louis. This exhibition represents the culmination of a semester’s work learning the basics of photography—from composition to lighting and the “rule of thirds.” Volunteers from Wash. U.’s Campus Y put on weekly programming for the middle and high schoolers.

Ninth grader Destinee, a program participant for two years, chose to focus on portraiture, often featuring pictures in black and white.

Why the lack of color? “Matt [one of the program mentors] said ‘this is too much, people are gonna get distracted,’” Destinee explained. “Sometimes black and white is good, and color is distracting. Other times, people look at the picture and are like ‘what is this?’”

Her advice for budding photographers: “Try different angles, black and white, you know.”

Looking across the photo displays, one board filled with pictures of a singular hadrosaur figurine caught my attention. The spread belonged to Darryl, an eighth grader at Lift for Life.

Following a prompt to use a singular object in different locations, Darryl settled upon a dinosaur as his focal point.

“You know how dinosaurs used to be in the wild?” Darryl posed the question as he began to explain the shot, which itself evoked an image of a dinosaur crawling out of an alien spacecraft: “It just looked like the perfect spot to take a picture…On the slide, there was a little hole in it. I put [the dinosaur] in there to see how it looked, and it came out pretty good to me.”

While none of the group leaders are photography majors, many of them have prior experience with photography as well as varying specialties.

Freshman Libby Perold, one of many Wash. U. volunteers and a photography minor, helps out with the weekly programming. “We brought together pictures, and held critiques [so the kids could] talk about what they liked and needed improvement,” she said.

Perold also worked with the assigned “abstraction projects.” “The project was to help the kids find an adjective about themselves, and spell it out in photographs…for example, they would see a billboard or something and use their own creativity.”

For junior Preetha Iyengar, the best aspect of the program is forming bonds with the participants.

“From day one to now, they’ve just grown so much,” Iyengar said. “They’re so much more confident…they ask questions about college, and a big part of the program is just getting them to ask questions and get interested.”

Iyengar also emphasized the benefits of block funding on their program’s growth.

“Having a good budget is really important; it’s what allowed us to expand the program to high schoolers and have the ninth grade students this year come to Wash. U. every single week…multiple times this semester’s students mentioned that was their favorite part of the program,” Iyengar said.

As for tips for aspiring photographers: “I think…always try to keep your composition in mind. Starting out with the rule of thirds, thinking about framing… these kinds of things can turn any image into a beautiful photograph. My personal favorite is really dramatic lighting; lighting just makes everything better.”

To those who want to get involved, fellow program leader Elaine Parmilee suggested, “Just go to the Campus Y! They have contact info and details on all the programs, or you can email [email protected]

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