As one of the most diverse metropolitan areas, Hartford offers a piece of culture for everyone. The Amistad Center for Art and Culture, a fixture in Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art since 1987, celebrates current and historical African art and culture through various educational programs. One of the ways in which the Amistad does this is through Neighborhood Studios, the Arts Council’s summer arts education program for teens in Greater Hartford.
Now it’s ninth year, the Snap! Photography program guides ten apprentices to learn the ins and outs of photography from photographic history, to mastering camera techniques, to museum exhibition design and installation. Sounds fun, right? We’re intrigued. Read on to find out more about the program from Master Teaching Artist, Caleb Portfolio and stop by the Snap! Photography showcase to discover students’ artwork.
What are the goals for your studio this summer?
Each summer the apprentices learn about the photographic process. I teach them how to shoot with manual film cameras, how to develop their own film, and how to make prints in a darkroom. I also teach them about the basics of digital photography, how to use a flatbed scanner, and how to make their own high quality digital prints. At the end of the program the apprentices also learn about curating their own show. These are a few of the technical learning goals I have for them, but perhaps more importantly, my goal is for them to become independent and creative thinkers. They have the freedom to make their projects be about whatever they are passionate about, and I hope that the experience of being a creative problem solver is something they take with them in the future.
What’s an average day like at your studio?
We often start the day talking about the past days photographs, giving constructive criticism and setting goals for the day. In first weeks we would walk around Hartford taking pictures, and then return to our studio to do a demonstration about a new process or technique. We also have the opportunity to meet with professionals working in the Wadsworth Atheneum. Now that all of our technical demos are done, the apprentices spend the day working on their individual projects, shooting in the studio, printing in the darkroom or editing in Photoshop.
What about working with students in the Greater Hartford region inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by their creativity and eagerness to express themselves. I think young artists have a lot to say about how they interpret the world around them, and it is a privilege to be able to help them make visual work so that they can express themselves. They often come up with ideas that I never would have thought of, and that surprise always keeps things fresh and interesting.
How do you see the exploration of an artistic discipline as well as career skills impacting the way these students might look towards the future?
I think that in order for future generations to be successful, they need to learn how to think creatively. This transcends just making beautiful photographs, or paintings, or music. Though these art forms are extremely important, the ability to think about the world in a non-prescribed, non-formulaic way is essential. Thinking creatively is a skill that everyone can bring into whatever job they do. It brings forth new ideas, and new solutions to problems. The creative thinkers of the world are the ones that become leaders and make global changes. My hope is that these apprentices are able to take this way of thinking into whatever career they pursue in the future.
What did past students take away from the program and how does that experience differ from a traditional art class?
I think the freedom to think independently in a professional setting is an invaluable experience for a young artist to have. Seeing that there are different careers available has changed the lives of past apprentices, many of whom have gone on to pursue work in a museum or gallery. My assistant, Molly McGuire, was a former apprentice and now works in the Amistad office. This is a prime example of the effect Neighborhood Studios can have on future career of the apprentices that take part in it.
Having the freedom to make the work they want to make, instead of simply fulfilling the needs of an assignment, is an experience many students don’t have in school. I want to expose my apprentices to this way of working because I want to see that it is ok to think differently and independently.