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The Secret Story of Photos

Middle-schoolers learn to see through the lens to bring everyday images to life

This summer middle-schooler ­Kinsey Helmly discovered something surprising about photography.
    “I love how every picture has a story behind it,” she writes. “In my photo Blissful Forest, my model has words written on her hand from a classmate at school. That’s why her hand is closed. But you would never have known that had I not told you. That’s what I love about photos. They all have a secret.”
    Helmly was one of eight students in the first class of Elkie Artists, the brainchild of Joanne Riley and Elk Donna Marks, both members of Deale Elks 2528.
    “We really wanted a way to bring art to the community for our youth,” said Riley, also founder of Muddy Creek Artists Guild. “We do not have a community center, and the Deale Elks Lodge is a great opportunity to provide that.”
    A Beacon Grant from the Elks International equipped the class with Kodak cameras, a Canon printer and supplies. Local business DL Miller provided computers for downloading pictures.
    Each equipped with her own camera, the girls spent an intense day of shooting with tips and guidance from a Muddy Creek Artist Guild mentor.
    Teams of students and mentors descended on Deale one morning, casting artists’ eyes on their surroundings as they searched for intriguing colors, textures and perspectives.
    “The girls were very open to new ideas and suggestions and incorporated the concepts we shared into their independent work,” said Jen Heinz, a Muddy Creek Artist.
    “The girls taught me just as much, if not more, than I taught them,” said photographer and former journalist Jamie-Leigh Bissett.
    After the shoot, the girls critiqued their photos and selected favorites to print and mount for a show of their work.
    “We encouraged the girls to share the stories behind the photos with their visitors,” says Heinz. “It must have worked since nearly everything in the exhibit sold.”
    Shelby Williams borrowed mentor Heinz’s use of props for her at-home shoots. “I found some good props — dead crabs, seaweed, driftwood and sea glass — which I posed to get some beachy photos,” the teen photographer wrote.
    Williams said she continued to turn her camera lens all around her, looking for that inspired shot.
    “I tried for a spider stuck on a screen in my house and they all turned out blurry and fuzzy. I went on a walk to my park right before sunset and I took pictures of the water and a slide plus the basketball hoop and some of the playset and tree that sat in the middle. Then I saw my neighbor’s trees were lined up well and had some good texture, so I took a few pictures. I was trying to be funny and take pictures of my brother through the bushes like a stalker. I tried the Beauty filter on him. It didn’t work well,” she wrote of her experience.
    Mentor Ed Mann “enjoyed getting out of the way and watching creative minds emerge.”
    Mentor Bea Poulin elaborated: “Photography has become such a natural part of life in the 21st century that it may seem unnecessary to teach it. But I think it’s important to encourage students to learn to wait for the shot and to allow for serendipity.
    “Walking around Deale with my two students really made me aware of how mind-clearing photography is and how much joy is created by the simple click that captures something so unexpected.”
     Riley plans to apply for the Beacon Grant every year “so we can continue having art in our community for our youth.”