NECD kids explore community in photo workshop

By Terri Flagg
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Photo of Elisha Ensley and Carly Brantmeyer

During last summer’s PhotoTEACH session at the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club on Alston Ave. in Durham, Carly Brantmeyer rejoices with student Elisha Ensley over his successful photography project. (Staff photo by Jock Lauterer)

One group of Durham youngsters won’t have to write an essay to answer the question, “What does community mean to you?”

They’ll be using pictures.

About 10 students in fifth through ninth grade will be trying to answer that question as the capstone assignment of PhotoTEACH, an upcoming series of photojournalism workshops taught by UNC-Chapel Hill students and co-sponsored by the Durham VOICE.

“It’s really a neat opportunity,” said PhotoTEACH organizer Carly Brantmeyer, 22, a photojournalism major who will graduate in May. “We teach them the basic elements, but it’s from their eyes, through their eyes. It’s about what they experience every day.”

Brantmeyer said she hopes the students pick up more than photography skills.

“It’s not about making them great photographers as much as empowering them through some kind of creative media,” she said. “It’s a mode of self-expression and an outlet for their voices.”

The four workshops will be held at the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Durham at 801 Gilbert St., on Monday, April 19, from 4 to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, April 21, from 4 to 6 p.m.; Friday April 23, from 3 to 6:30 p.m.; and Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The experience will culminate in an exhibition and reception on Thursday, April 24, held at the UNC-CH Frank Porter Graham Student Union.

Brantmeyer chose this location because PhotoTEACH was funded with a grant she was awarded as UNC-CH’s 2009 Homecoming Queen.

“We will invite the entire student body so they can see the impact their vote had,” said Brantmeyer, who said she hopes the exhibit will be extended to other locations.

“We want it also to travel through Durham so it doesn’t just stop in Chapel Hill, it goes back to the community it came from,” she said.

Brantmeyer, who first tried out the PhotoTEACH concept while studying abroad in Ghana, also taught weekly photo workshops in Durham last spring.

“That was a really powerful experience,” said of last year’s photoTEACH experience. “The students were wary at first, but by the end they were not wanting us to leave.”

Brantmeyer said she was impressed with the quality of the work produced in last year’s workshops.

“I could definitely tell a difference in their photography,” she said. “They were grasping new concepts and putting them to use.”

But she also noticed the students undergoing personal transformations.

“It boosted their self esteem so much, and they took pride in their work,” she said. “The students shared really tough struggles they’ve been through. They are learning that with dedication and hard work comes tangible results.”

Brantmeyer said she expects similar results this year. Working with an executive board to develop a curriculum for the program that will be sustainable after she graduates, Brantmeyer changed the format of PhotoTEACH from weekly to week-long to increase its impact.

The first two workshops will focus on the basics, Brantmeyer said. Working on digital point-and-shoot cameras loaned from the Durham VOICE, students will first learn how to manipulate the cameras and about important photographic concepts such as light and composition.

Then it’s action time. From the workshop site on Gilbert Street, “the students can literally walk to their houses,” Brantmeyer said. “They can be in their environment and find people who have inspired them.”

But there will still be work to be done after the photographs have been taken — selecting the best photos and writing captions for them. That will be covered in the final workshop, working on laptop computers also loaned from the Durham VOICE.

Brantmeyer said another improvement she hopes to make in in the program this year is to make sure the students are able use what they’ve learned after the workshop concludes.

“We want to put a camera in their hands so that the learning continues and the students are able to be journalists in Durham,” she said.

To help that happen, Brantmeyer organized a camera drive at the UNC-CH School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where students and faculty can donate their used but functioning digital cameras.

The donated cameras will be given to the PhotoTEACH graduates.

“We can’t promise anything,” Brantmeyer said, “but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”