Photography and Art

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Art City Part I

I've had a tremendous amount of fun over the last two Sundays teaching a photography class to 7 students between the ages of 7 and 10. The students were members of Art City, a non-profit storefront art school for the kids of St. Jamestown in Toronto.

I sent out an appeal to all my friends to dust off any digital cameras they had sitting around in drawers and received about a dozen cameras ranging from a Kodak DC-50 of 1997 vintage through to some 3 and 4 megapixel cameras. In all, I was able to donate 10 working cameras to the cause and was able to give each of the students in the class a decent digital camera to use.

I was blown away by how quickly these kids were able to get the hang of these cameras. These kids have grown up in the digital age and they really know their way around tech devices of all shapes and sizes. Pretty soon, they were showing me how to set the cameras up to take movies.

I'd thought about this for a week or so and had prepared a 15 minute talk on the basics of photography (light, subject and composition) complete with illustrations from some good photo books. I used Gaylen Rowell's Mountain Light to illustrate a photographer who placed light above all else. I used the book called Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus 1901-1927 as seen by F. W. Glasier, Photographer as an example of a photographer who was obsessed with one subject and I used Ed Burtynsky's book on China to illustrate command over composition. The students were surprisingly attentive and passed the books around with great interest.

After the theory, it was time for practice, so we headed out into the cold winter blast. It was snowing, so the kids had a great time running around taking pictures of the wintery scene. I'd asked them to focus on two things: taking pictures that featured lots of lines (e.g. fence posts, grates, windows) to illustrate how converging lines can be a powerful composition tool and taking pictures of each other. For the most part, the students stuck to the script although the snow started to take a toll on the proceedings as the cameras got wet and started to malfunction. Finally, snow angels won out over cameras and we went back to Art City.

The author poses for portraits

Once indoors, the Art City staff took over the proceedings and organized lots of great photo opportunities. The kids made colourful still life arrangements and took pictures of those. Then we split the group into two with one group modelling for the other. Art City has lots of dress-up clothes, so the kids had a great time modelling crazy fashions. I spent the time either dressing up for the kids or fixing cameras that had mysteriously been set to some very weird combinations of settings.

The models shoot back!

The time flew by and soon it was time to take the cameras back and end the session. I took away the photo cards with every intention of uploading them so the kids could edit them the next week.

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