Behind the camera lens with the Amistad Center


During the summer of 2015, ten incredibly talented teen photographers were hard at work in the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Neighborhood Studios Snap! Photography program capturing memories and lessons to last a lifetime. Arts Council volunteer, Lindsey Hopper shares her experience visiting with the apprentices at the Amistad Center studio.

I had the pleasure this past week of visiting and talking with these young apprentices from the Amistad Center for Art & Culture as they worked on their pieces for their final showcase called Stories. As I walked into the Hartford Courant room, which had become their makeshift studio, the lights flickered on and off as a few students in the corner tried to find the best overhead lighting effect for a portrait of another apprentice. Another student was holding up a print to the window, looking to see if the natural light brought out the vibrancy in the colors in the way he hoped. Another had a glass jar balanced on her head and was directing master teacher Caleb Portfolio in the placement of a light – I couldn’t tell at first where she was going with that idea, but the beautifully patterned shadow cast on the wall behind her proved she knew exactly what she was doing.

I sat down with a few of the apprentices, careful not to disturb their work, and they all opened up to me about what photography really meant to them, beyond just creating a pretty picture. This year’s theme of stories, which is working in conjunction with the Amistad Center’s exhibit ‘This is My Story, This is My Song,’ inspired each of the apprentices to share their own narrative through their images. While each message and technique was different, they all hoped that their work would, in the words of an apprentice named Ivonne, “resonate with the viewer and make them feel.” Fellow apprentice Cree agreed, saying she wants people to see the deeper meaning in art.

Wanting to know more about each apprentice’s intention for the “deeper meaning,” I found Jay, quietly tucked away behind a backdrop, where she was quite literally reflecting upon her past to make a bold statement about society. She told me, “I feel like society influences the way we look. So I’m recreating old pictures of me to compare them to how I look now. I want to show what I looked like before society grabbed hold and told me what I should look like, especially when I started wearing makeup and caring about what others thought of me.”  Her brave statement is no less courageous than any of the other messages the apprentices want to send, like Lauren who says the tone of her images express that “nobody should be able to tell you who to be. Life is about being who you are and not letting other people define you.”

These strong messages and themes are unique to each of the apprentices, yet Jay told me that everyone found the idea that fit them the best through talking with their fellow apprentices, “There was this one moment where we were all struggling to come up with ideas. But we came together and just started bouncing ideas off each other, and everybody ended up with some really brilliant concepts.” In fact, nearly everyone I talked to said that working with each other was the most memorable moment of the summer.

As for moments beyond this summer, many of the apprentices weren’t really sure where exactly they’d end up in life. Each of them, however, knew that photography would always follow them wherever they went. Their passion for photography and the desire to continue to learn and explore its many outlets was summed up exquisitely by Jay, “Creating anything you can express yourself with is beautiful.” And after the afternoon I spent with them flew by, I could not agree more.

Get to know more about the apprentices:

Are you better at what you do because of this program?

  • I am definitely better at what I do. Before the program I didn’t know how to manually adjust and work with cameras. Here, I learned how to compose an image in my head before the camera captured it, so it was my vision represented, not the camera’s. – Lauren
  • I think it helped me focus on one idea. I’m usually all over the place, but Caleb helped me focus on the idea of freedom. I learned more techniques to successfully express my ideas. – Ivonne
  • After the first week or two, I knew more about photography than ever before. I learned about Photoshop, lighting, how to develop film, shutter speed, aperture. I came in here knowing nothing. – Jay
  • It has kept my creative juices flowing throughout the summer. I’ve learned how to give and take constructive criticism, and that’s a really important skill to learn. – Jayme


What was your favorite thing to photograph in Hartford this summer?

  • I took a lot of photographs of people walking along the crosswalks, Beatles-style. – Jay
  • Right outside the museum, between these two buildings, there are some really cool, big windows and I took an awesome picture with a fish-eye lens. – Jayme
  • I like the cemetery and the skate park. And we always pass by the church with the red doors. I really like that. – Ivonne
  • Anything! I loved going around the city and going downtown. I don’t live in Hartford so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there’s so much more beauty here than people think. – Cree



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