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Students Capture, Are Captured By Community In Photography Project

July 11, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Marissa Nunez

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Associate professor of art Becky Finley and her "Photographic Narratives" class celebrated the end of the semester by showcasing the images the students took while documenting and participating in various community organizations during the spring semester. The project was part of SHSU's Academic Community Engagement program, which encourages students to live the SHSU motto by connecting to the community and giving back. —Submitted photos

 

Webster’s Dictionary defines a motto as a “chosen phrase encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family or institution.”

Sam Houston State University’s eight-word motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service,” is more than just the encapsulation of the beliefs of students, faculty and staff; it is something the Bearkat community strives to manifest in their daily lives, but also in their classes. Students in associate professor of art Becky Finley’s “Photographic Narratives” course measured their service last semester by capturing images of local organizations as part of the Academic Community Engagement program.

The ACE program was founded in 2008 by provost emeritus David Payne with the intent of combining community engagement with academic instruction.

“Students taking ACE courses are learning to live our motto,” Joyce McCauley, director of the Center for Academic Community Engagement said. “The ACE initiative extends that outreach to the community by connecting course learning objectives to community needs and giving students further opportunities and experiences in services to others.”

More than 170 of SHSU’s courses currently incorporate ACE in their classrooms.

Finley’s “Photographic Narratives” called for students to document an organization of their choosing to help illustrate the hard work and dedication that goes into making the programs operate through images and artist statements.

“It seemed like the perfect class to document community organizations,” Finley said. “We tried to tell their stories.”

Through the project, the students hoped to bring more exposure to the organizations, as well as promote awareness and show that art can make a difference in the community.

Josh Yates quoteAt the end of the semester, students in the class voted on the best overall pictures to be displayed in the Lowman Student Center Gallery and self-published books of their work.

Narratives varied from the documentation of a retirement community’s move from one location to another, by Juston Casias, Jenna Moore and Amber Zana; to the lifecycle of produce, by Casey Mills; to a personal look into the lives of home-care patients, by Jacquelyn Schroeder.

For her narrative, junior art major Elise Weber decided to work with Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that sets out to repair and build new homes for families in need.

“I wanted to show how people who came from pretty much nothing can start a whole new life in this new house for their family,” said Weber, whose pictures were chosen to be in the exhibit.

Each house takes about six to nine months to complete, so to help illustrate the step-by-step process of building a habitat home she documented various build sites in different stages of completion.

“We had just a foundation of the house on one part all the way up to a fully built house on another,” Weber said. “You see the whole transformation as it was happening.”

Having volunteered as a builder a year before, Weber found working with the organization to be a different experience this time. The project allowed her to get to know the families on a more personal level, which gave her a better understanding of what families go through before and after receiving a habitat home, she said.

One story that stands out for her was that of an elderly lady who was receiving a brand- new, four-bedroom house for her and her niece after sharing a cramped apartment with 14 other relatives.

“It was really great getting to know the people who were going to live there. This is extremely life changing for all of them,” Weber said.

Classmates Joshua Yates, a recent graduate, and senior art major Jessica Schaper collaborated for their narrative with the Boys & Girls Club, which offers a fun and safe place for kids to go to after school and provides multiple programs ranging in education, sports, art and leadership.

Developing memories...

“With these photos we wanted to show all the wonderful work the Boys & Girls Club does,” Yates said. “They give these kids such a great chance to grow and learn and play together.”

Both photographers aimed to highlight and capture the lively atmosphere of the club and the kids in their natural behavior. Schaper said they did not want to stage the children with the use of fake lighting or manipulate them in anyway.

“I was hoping to show the honesty of the children at the club and how they truly interact with one another,” Schaper said. “I really think our photos capture them in that way.”

The project not only served as a community service for the photographers, but, in a way, was a social experiment for them.

Yates saw how children mimic adults and what they see in the media, such as when a little girl posed for the camera while puffing on a Cheeto as a cigarette, but still kept it playful and youthful.

Schaper was able to gain a better understanding of children and learned that kids and adults are not that different when it comes to living within social structures such as age, race and maturity.

“It was really interesting to see the social dynamics that happen with kids, like how they play and interact,” Yates said.

The experience of working with these organizations has left an imprint on the photographers, each one wishing to continue their community service and making it be part of their future.

Weber hopes to work with Habitat for Humanity in the future and to continue documenting people and community involvement throughout the world as a photographer for National Geographic.

Schaper has continued her community service work throughout the summer by working with the SAAFE House on another photography project and plans on returning to the Boys & Girls Club in the fall as the focus of an independent study class. She plans to graduate in December with a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree and hopes to one day get into advertising photography.

“I honestly have greatly enjoyed my community service time. The work that came out of the project are pieces that I am truly proud of,” Schaper said.

Yates, who received two bachelor’s degrees in fine and studio art and in photography in May, hopes to complete his master’s degree in sculpting and teach at the collegiate level.

“This experience has really opened up my eyes to see how many organizations are out there and how many volunteers they actually need to make things happen,” Yates said. “It has instilled in me a want to get involved with more organizations.”

 

 

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