Arts Smarts Smart

We all have a story. Every place, every thing, every person has a story to go along with it.  And the great thing about these stories is immeasurable way in which they are all tangled together.  Because the stories you chose to tell, and how you chose to tell them helps to tell your story in the meantime. 

Thanks to the Arts Smarts program, the students of the Tompkins School and I were graced with the opportunity to spend a great deal of time together throughout the last few months.  This idea of every person and every place having a story was a central theme in our time together.  We spent many hours together, dedicated to learning the craft of photography.

On my very first day, I faced a group of fifteen students, grades encompassing kindergarten to the fifth grade, faces brimming with excitement.  I was a new face in their midst and the prospect of not having to do schoolwork during their time with me promised great rewards.  As excited as we all were to begin our project, I was slightly terrified.  How would I remember all their names? What could I possibly teach these children? But there was no backing out now.  And so we began.

It has been an exciting four months so far.  On the first day the majority of them had only ever taken photographs with a cellphone belonging to someone.  Perhaps some of them had used a digital camera at some point but their knowledge was limited.  We spent the first few weeks learning about cameras, (we even built a pinhole camera) and photographs, and all of the tools available to us when we go to make our photographs. We had dance breaks and read stories and talked about creativity.  We painted, we drew, we laughed and we learned about what it meant to be ourselves.  We made collages about light and texture and lines and shapes and contrast.  We learned to look for these things in photos in magazines and then in our everyday lives.  We watched the Olympics through the eyes of the NY Times photographers as we poured over their weekly photography columns, just soaking in the beauty and talent.

On one of my favourite days in particular, I brought a handful of old photos I had found on the internet.  We looked at them and discussed them.  Most of the photos I had shown them in the beginning were photographically appealing.  They had lines and shapes and contrast and light and were taken by some of the most amazing photographers in the world.  But the photos on this day were mere snapshots.  They were not taken to win awards, they were taken to capture a moment.  The kids and I discussed these photos in a very detailed manner.  I probed them for answers to questions such as “who took this photo” and “why?”  We also concocted stories about the people in the photographs based on what we could and couldn’t see.  I wanted the kids to see that what we choose to put in our photo is so important to the story we are telling.  Both for the artist, the subject and the audience.  I wanted the kids to see that they had a voice through their photographs because we were about to use those voices.


After learning the basics about photography and about all the tools we could use to take amazing photos, we began to take photos.  The theme of our photo story we chose to tell as a group was centred upon where we come from, our town and our community.  And so with keeping this in mind, we went on many adventures around the town and the countryside, compiling images for our story of the community of Tompkins.  By the end of our photographic journey, these kids, these children who had known nothing about photography mere months before, were astounding me with their skill and their passion and their vision.  They saw lines where most of us had never even looked before.  They got in there and they gave their all.  These kids made my heart burst with pride as we reviewed their images.  Pride not only for the way they chose to use the tools to create stunning images, but pride for the immeasurable amount of support they demonstrated to one another.  A level of support that I can only hope we will all return to them.

This project wraps up soon.  On June 12th we will be having an art show and sale in Tompkins complete with a bbq to showcase the hard work and dedication of the Tompkins students.  Their images will be on display in the Tompkins Community Hall for all of us to pour over.  It’s a bittersweet ending to an amazing four months in which these students have worked so unbelievably hard.  So mark the date on your calendar and come out and see what these kids have done because it is truly amazing.  They are truly amazing.  Which is why I will be missing them when this is over.  I was their photography teacher for the past four months and I know that I have given them tools to take great photographs for their entire life ahead of them.  Not only that but I hope that I showed them how to see, how to really look at life and see beauty all around them.  I hope that I taught them that their stories reflect who they are and that they are free to be whoever they want.  I wanted to teach them those things, because that is the gift that these kids gave to me.  They helped to show me that everyone has a story.  And that we all need to stop looking for the most interesting story to tell and instead find the most interesting way to tell our stories.

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May 30, 2014 - 11:53 pm

Jamie Woytiuk - Katie the story and photos are amazing.