Give a kid a camera, let ‘em loose in the woods or a field or along a creek and some very special things happen. Intense observation, concentration, creative problem solving: ART. Ansel Adams’ mother said that after being in nature, her ADHD son was calmer and more focused. Later, Adams took his focus and his camera into nature, and photography has never been the same.
On Saturday, June 9, a very special exhibition of young Ansel Adamses opened across from Lilly Magilly’s Cupcakery at the Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. Displayed in the window of 217 Boardwalk Place (click here for directions) are photographs and photo-collages by nearly 100 fourth graders from Gaithersburg Elementary School. The school held a fun reception on Saturday to celebrate the creative and academic work they did with a nature photographer.
The students were part of two very interesting eco-based photography programs led by Arts and Humanities Council's (AHCMC) teaching artist Joanne Miller. Joanne’s gotta thing for nature. She likes it. Lots. An art photographer focusing her camera lens on wildlife living at the edge of urban landscapes, Joanne is well known in the region for her hauntingly beautiful photographs. AHCMC was pleased to have her included in the inaugural exhibition, "Three Visions of Nature," at the Kramer Gallery in 2010. We’re equally delighted to have Joanne bring her own special brand of ecology and art to AHCMC’s Arts Integrated Residencies. You can find Joanne in our Teaching Artist Roster.
“Photography offers kids a creative opportunity to experience the wonder of nature through the eye of a camera,” Joanne told me. “As they master new skills and discover the simple beauty of the outdoor world, a change takes place in their art and personal expression.”
Working with the fourth- grade teachers—Susan Knutson and Patricia Kennedy—Joanne led an in-school residency supported by a grant from AHCMC that integrated art, science and technology. When Joanne works with kids, she gives them digital cameras to learn on. The students photographed the nature around their schools and made and photographed model ecosystems in the classroom. When they were done photographing, the fun really began. Just because her students are in fourth grade doesn’t mean Joanne stints on learning. Nope, students learn how to upload and manipulate their photos on Macs and PCs. Using school computers, they printed photographs and created photo-collages.
“The fourth-grade students thoroughly enjoyed linking nature, photography and the arts,” said Lisa Lewis, a teacher at Gaithersburg Elementary School. “They truly have a new-found respect for how nature plays an important part of our world. This program was a great experience for our students and was a perfect match for our curriculum.”
What did the students think?
“I like the way we were able to look at nature inside and then go outside to take real photos,” said Raquel. “You could compare and contrast environments.”
“Since March, I’ve noticed more changes in nature,” said Vanesa.
Gaithersburg Elementary School has a student body of almost 700 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, with a large ESOL population. They’ve also got some great after-school partners, like Linkages to Learning (LTL) and Identity. Together LTL and Identify worked with teaches and administrators to build a nature and photography after-school program. Fifteen students were selected to participate, and Joanne was contracted to teach this program as well. Funding for the after-school program was community driven with a grant from the City of Gaithersburg, individual donors and some funding and in-kind help from Asbury Methodist Village.
In this nine-week after-school program, students learned about the visual language of art and photography and explored nature around the school, at a local farm and in the wildlife habitat of Asbury Methodist Village. Students created photographic hand-made books and exhibition prints, while developing positive self esteem and respect for the natural environment and, as Joanne believes, “ an understanding that they [the children] are an important part of the world around them.”
When I asked Joanne why she bothers with an exhibition, she said: “Building self esteem, it’s a valuable experience for children to be honored by their community for their creative vision. When a child points to their photograph in a public exhibition, immediately you see the pride in their eyes and smiles, and, so valuable too, a sense of pride in their parents' hearts.”
These two nature programs have done more than build knowledge and skill—they’re building awareness and pride in the students, the schools and the community. Local business The Peterson Companies stepped up to the plate and graciously offered an exhibition space for the exhibit at the Washingtonian Center. Joanne worked with GreenKids to plan the exhibition and host the reception.
It took a village to put these programs together and the village has succeeded tremendously. Kudos to you, Gaithersburg!
The exhibition will be on display at the Washingtonian Center indefinitely. You can see it from the street at 217 Boardwalk, 24/7.