Eight Lawrence youngsters are learning how to express themselves by using a camera.
Diane Silver is no stranger to judging photographs.
As news editor at the Kansas University Endowment Association, part of her job is deciding what pictures are worthy of publication.
So when she looked at the pictures her 12-year-old son Tony took during a free class taught at the Pelathe Community Resource Center, she knew what she was doing.
``Wow, that's a really good picture. I'd put that in my magazine,'' she recalled thinking after seeing one of Tony's photos. ``Then I just got proud.''
Eight Lawrence youngsters, ages 8 to 15, took the course, which was taught by Lawrence photographer Gary Smith and funded by the Kansas Arts Commission, the Lawrence Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and private donations.
The two-week course was completed about two months ago and many of the pictures taken by the students have been combined with an earlier class' work to form an exhibit at the Riverfront Gallery.
The photos, all of which were taken in the Lawrence area, will be shown through the end of the month.
``The community of Lawrence gets to see what the kids of Lawrence see in their Lawrence,'' Smith said. ``It's a very valuable communication tool. We don't really express ourselves between generations very well.''
Smith has taught similar material to college students and he tries to treat the younger students identically.
``I've taught it to whole classes of
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kids under 8 and gotten them to get it,'' Smith said. ``We just take it for granted that kids won't get something this complicated. It takes me an extra couple days and that's it.''
Sharing the love of photography
The students were encouraged to take pictures of anything that interested them, and because Tony loves football, Smith thought he'd take sports photos.
But a funny thing happened when Tony had the camera in his hands.
``He naturally started looking up at things,'' Smith said.
That became Tony's style.
``I'm not exactly the tallest person,'' the 4-foot, 8-inch boy said. ``Everybody had their own style. All my pictures had a lot of stuff going on; they were chaotic.''
Tony's style was developed after he, like the rest of the students, shot about seven rolls of film using 35mm point-and-shoot cameras.
``I've got a stack of pictures this big,'' he said, holding his hands about six inches apart.
The group met at the Pelathe Center everyday after school for two to three hours, learning the finer points of photography. Smith ignored the technical aspects of cameras, instead focusing on the more artistic side of picture-taking.
``They are taught to express themselves, to try to show something about themselves in the photographs they take,'' Smith said. ``Maybe one of them is having trouble at home. Well, try to express that trouble through your pictures.''
It's that expression that was the entire emphasis of the class, and the teaching style seemed to get through to the kids.
``We learned how to focus with our pictures,'' said Tara Hammer, 9, who took the class with her sister, Misty. ``I like it a lot more now.''
``I had a great time with it,'' Tony said. ``I think I've learned to look at everything in a whole new way. Photographs are more than just like a portrait of something. I would say that they're art. They're stopping time and letting you look back on it. They're a way for people to see things through your eyes.''
Capturing Lawrence on film
The students took their pictures during six to eight field trips. If the destination was too far to walk, Smith drove the kids in a van to places such as alleyways and the Lawrence airport north of town. But Smith couldn't grant one request.
``Take us to a volcano, take us to a volcano!'' the class asked Smith, who traveled a few months ago to Montserrat to shoot the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano.
While a trip to an exploding mountain of lava wouldn't exactly be appropriate for the class, Smith wanted to go somewhere in the area that might put a charge into the kids. His mind wandered until he came up with the perfect place: Midland Junction.
``We stood at the (railroad) crossing until the trains came by,'' he said.
A smile started to make its way onto his mustached face as he joked about the trip.
``It scared the hell out of them.''
The trip -- and the class -- made a big impression on the students.
``Now I know that people take pictures that reflect upon who they are,'' Tony said. ``Before they were just pictures, now they're art.''
But perhaps Tara said it best.
``It's just fun to take pictures.''
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