What pulled 11 kids ages 12 to 15 into the Oak Bluffs library on Friday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 pm, when they could have been hanging out, or perhaps should have been doing their homework? Each of them heard about a workshop offered on selfies, with a twist. Dena Porter, a professional photographer who has created unusual self-portraits herself (check out her website, denaporterphotography.com), explained afterward.
“I thought it would be great fun to challenge young people to do something that they were very familiar with but to do it differently,” Porter said. “Most young people have access to a camera or phone with camera capabilities. And they have likely had a bit of practice taking selfies. I thought it would be fun to build on their technical knowledge about how to take photos by giving them props and challenges to accomplish during the workshop that would result in well-composed photos that say something about who the student is.”
A professional educator in a former career, Porter dove right in and immediately grabbed the kids’ attention. She began by expanding their concept of a selfie. “A self-portrait isn’t always a shot of you. It doesn’t have to be just your face. You could modify a famous work and put yourself into it, you could take advantage of objects and light already around you.”
Porter briefly projected a series of inspiring way-out-there selfies by a handful of contemporary artists, asking the kids questions to get them to reflect on what they were seeing and what they thought about it. The discussion was lively and thoughtful, and they at times saw things that the few adults in the room had missed.
The energy increased exponentially when it came time for their first assignment. Porter pointed to the end of the table with an assortment of perhaps bizarre but inspiring props that anyone could use in their selfies. These included items like a large square mirror and small color-changing fiber-optic lamp. “You can use motion, think about how close you want to be to the camera, think about light,” Porter told them. She said they were to do two shots they liked, one outside and one inside. “I want to see your best indoor shot. How do you take advantage of what is already right here? There might be something in this room, there might be something in the library, and the ground rules are to be as creative as you can. And you only have 20 minutes,” Porter said.
The majority of students used their cell phones, but a few brought more advanced cameras. When they returned to the conference room, Porter had each of them email her the best indoor and outdoor shots, which Claire Ganz, who was assisting Porter, then printed while the students were out on their second assignment. When they returned to the room, the kids were super-excited to see their work printed out.
High school sophomore Hannah Victoria Rose Majewski reflected after the workshop, “It was awesome. They’re challenges [in the assignments]; that’s good. I love photography. I like the props too. I found a book that I really like, and it had the word panic, and I like the band Panic at the Disco and I love books, so it was perfect and meaningful.” Thirteen years old, Rachel Arruda shared, “I like how it inspires you to do different things and things you wouldn’t normally do.”
Caitlyn Clark, the Oak Bluffs children’s and young adult librarian who set up the workshop with Porter, asked the group, “Would you be interested in an art display with your work put up?” Her response to the group’s resounding answer of “Yes!” was, “You would love that? I know I haven’t seen the work yet, but I can feel the energy in the room.”