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Photography exhibit challenges students to see with a different lens

By Gabi Vesey

This summer, twenty Westminster students went to Guatemala for ten days. Composed of juniors and seniors, the group built houses and connected with the children of Santa Maria de Jesus. Part of the program, started by Julia Myrick, an art teacher in the elementary school, taught the children of Guatemala how to take pictures, which were then sent back to Atlanta. The photos were on display in the foyer of Pressly from Jan. 16 through Jan. 25 in an exhibit titled “Through a Different Lens,” coordinated by high school art teacher Kristin Brown.

“I think it’s just great to see photographs that children have taken from another culture, that have never held a camera, and basically to see how amazing they are and how inspiring they are,” Brown said.

The trip started before the students left for Guatemala where the Westminster students were instructed on how to teach the Guatemalan children to use cameras.

“The Westminster students that were going on the trip got trained in the basics here on campus,” Spanish teacher Daniel Searl said. “The basics [of the training] included… [the Westminster students having] to take two or three photos of their families and put it together in a book and explain who was who and what was what.”

After the training in Atlanta, the students headed to Guatemala, where they met the children, ages four to thirteen.

“The Westminster students . . . taught the children how to use the digital cameras,” Searl said. “Very few had ever used one before.”

The children’s reactions to receiving the cameras were exciting for the Westminster students to see.

“[My] favorite part of teaching the kids how to use the cameras was seeing them eagerly run and teach their friends how to use them,” said junior Mark Alar.

The children were told to take pictures of things that meant the most to the children or were important to them.

“They took pictures of… something that literally captured their lives,” junior Haley Watson said. “It was interesting to see things that were the most important [to them]. One year someone took a picture of a toilet because they were really proud that they had a toilet in their home…. It just shows you the difference between their houses and ours.”

The trip focused on the idea of making connections with different cultures and realizing the differences.

“I hope that [the photos] make people realize how lucky they are and how special [these children are] and just because [the children] have a little, doesn’t mean that they’re not happy,” said Brown. “They are so happy in those photographs.”

The photos capture the lives of each individual child in a way that is unique to them.

“[The photos] are spectacular,” Searl said. “And then somewhere in the back of your brain, you realize that those photos are taken by small children with no experience in photography, that the eye of the child sees things in a very special way. These photos are able to portray that.”

Photography provides a powerful means of cross-cultural connection.

“The photo exhibit helps us not only show the perspective of the children living in Guatemala,” said junior Trevor Henningson, “but also helps us relate to them in ways that would be near impossible without seeing their world through their eyes via the lens of the camera.”

One of the goals of the Guatemalan Photography Service Learning Project displayed at the photo exhibit is for the students to “move beyond playful and surface interactions.”

“It was a great experience to have to teach the children in Spanish,” said Henningson. “I finally understood the importance of learning other languages.”

The main theme of the program was the similarities that the students shared with the Guatemalan children.

“The exhibit shows that our families are so similar, despite the fact that we live so far away in such a different environment,” said Alar. “The most important thing is to share our experiences with the people here.”

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