Students from neighborhoods across Brooklyn experienced life as photographers last summer as part of the JustArts photography program. For three months, 12 high school students explored the world of photography, from camera basics to artwork presentation, while learning to know their community from behind a camera lens. Brooklyn Arts Council has been proud to work with the JustArts program and the Red Hook Community Justice Center as one of our longest-running educational partnerships.
At the program’s culminating celebration in July, a banner snaked around a corner fence outside Brooklyn Public Library’s Red Hook branch. It showcased the students’ photographs: portraits, landscapes, and city scenes taken over the course of the summer. Neighbors stopped to look and chat as teaching artist Lauren Henschel greeted students, families, friends, and collaborators.
By the time the banner was installed, student participants were well accustomed to curating and showing their work, having already exhibited at Red Hook Labs. In addition to the banner reveal, the event served as the book launch for a print publication of the students’ photos and collage.
“All of the students came out of the program with a portfolio of their work, an artist statement, strong technical and conceptual skills, and a final presentation of their work both in a gallery space and in the community,” said Lauren.
The experience equipped students with tools to continue as photographers. Before they were exhibiting and printing, the class learned about cameras and composition, editing with Photoshop, and how to bring personal perspective to their work.
“Young people constantly question who they are in relation to their friends, family, community, and the larger world,” said Lauren. “By giving students cameras, we are giving them tools to discover their voices and express feelings they may not have been able to articulate verbally before making pictures.”
Photos and text included in the exhibition focused on identity and community. In one image, a group marches in the street with flags and protest signs. Others show groups of graduating students in caps and gowns. Portraits were paired with personal mottos and self-reflective statements. “The endless cycle of fear once held her down thats why they can’t stand the smiles now,” says the caption handwritten on Mahalia Clare’s self portrait, where Mahalia crouches, smiling, with a microphone in hand.
By the end of the program, students gained a better understanding of what it means to pursue a career in photography as well as new friends and collaborators.
According to student photographer Cree Blagrove, only about half of the students knew each other at the start of the course, but by the end they were a close-knit group.
“We really all came together,” said Cree, adding that it helped that many wanted to take photos with similar themes.