By Christina Whiting
Participating in a project called PhotoVoice, students gathered each week for 12 weeks, learning photography skills, reviewing one another’s photographs and providing constructive feedback. Using digital storytelling, they were encouraged to share their perspectives on the issue of underage drinking, giving voice to their views.
At Homer Middle School, PhotoVoice was incorporated into Rand Seaton’s yearbook class. Sixteen students participated, including 14-year-old Sarah Wolf.
“I learned the importance of creating paths that the eye can follow when I’m taking a photograph,” Wolf said. “These are called leading lines, and now I see them everywhere.”
Though the project theme for the semester was underage drinking, project leaders wanted to give students a chance to show what issues concerned Homer students the most.
When students were asked to use photography to identify a problem in Homer they would like to change, Wolf propped up a long, thin printer ink cartridge on the ground. She asked a friend to lay next to it, then shot the scene showing just the cartridge and her friend’s arm.
“I wanted people to think the cartridge was a syringe,” she said. “This image represents an overdose and tells the story of Homer’s drug problem.”
Briea Gregory, also 14, learned the power of digital storytelling.
“I learned how to see the stories in photos,” she said. “Now, when I see a photograph, I look for the story.”
Gregory photographed a car’s tailpipe, representing pollution as a problem she’d like to change. When students were asked what factors might influence their decision to drink or not drink alcohol, Gregory photographed her mandolin.
“My mandolin represents my creative outlet,” she said. “Music improves my mood and is one of the things that deters me from drinking.”
At the high school, six students tackled the project during Alayne Tetor’s Focus On Learning class.
“I really enjoyed PhotoVoice,” said Christopher Bice, 16. “It was a great opportunity to experiment with photographs. It helped me better understand how to take a picture with a message, which I had a lot of fun doing.”
PhotoVoice is a prevention strategy used across the country and internationally, that aims to give every individual the opportunity to be heard. The mission is to learn and use photography skills as instruments for positive social change.
In Homer, the current PhotoVoice project was a collaborative effort of the Homer Prevention Project and many community organizations. The goal was to raise awareness about factors that contribute to underage drinking and support teens in making healthy choices.
“Homer Prevention Project’s vision is a community with the capacity to support lasting and meaningful reduction in alcohol abuse,” Homer Prevention Project Coordinator Esther Hammerschlag said. “PhotoVoice provides a way to engage teens and adults in community conversation.”
Joe Ravin’s photographs of pomegranate seeds prompted a lively discussion among the students. Ravin, 14, was eating a pomegranate one day when he noticed one white seed among the red.
“Then he said he thought about all the little seeds as people and decided this could be a nice photograph,” said AmeriCorps VISTA and PhotoVoice co-facilitator Tara Schmidt. “So he photographed two versions: one with all the red seeds on a plate and the white seed alone off to the side, and one with the white seed propped up in the center of the frame atop a pile of the red seeds. A student responded to the second photograph, saying ‘In the other photograph, the white seed was really separate, but in this one, you can kind of see that there’s some white inside all the other seeds.’”
A discussion about inclusion ensued.
“My heart sang,” Schmidt said. “This was a moment we never knew we were hoping for.”
The K Bay Caffe exhibit will open with a reception on Friday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., several young poets will perform spoken word poetry, reciting works they created based on photographs in the exhibit. A panel of teens sharing their experiences with PhotoVoice will follow.
Homer Prevention Project is funded by a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant from the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Behavioral Health.
For more information about the Homer Prevention Project, or the art exhibit, call 235-0570 or visit www.homerpreventionproject.org.
For more information about PhotoVoice or examples of other PhotoVoice projects, visit www.photovoice.org.
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