Sometimes an after-school project grows and takes on a life of its own. This project was one of those. For the past few years two teachers on Meadowvale’s Family Studies department have encouraged their students to speak out against violence against women. It is an issue that has engaged them and their students, and this year it went even further. One teacher has a drama background, including fabulous skills in makeup, and she proposed to the students that she would use makeup to make volunteers look as if they had been beaten, abused…. and they would be photographed and the pictures displayed in the school. The goal was to bring the issue to life in the immediacy of the school. These issues are often seen as being somewhere else. The teachers and students wanted to bring them right into our neighbourhood. They quickly secured the willing volunteers, they had the permission of the principal to display these images in the school, but they needed photographers. I run a photography club and we agreed to do the photo shoot. The idea of cross-club activities had never occurred to me before. After school clubs tend to run as independent entities, but this time we collaborated and the results were spectacular.
Five girls agreed to model, and five of our student photographers came out to shoot. The setup I created was intentionally dramatic and yet very simple. Using a large black cloth as a backdrop and a single light source at 45 degrees to the model (see the diagram to see how this worked), we were able to create dramatic images.
The cameras used ranged from two DSLR’s to little point and shoots with some exposure controls. The shooting started at 3:30, and it just didn’t stop. The models and the shooters worked nonstop for over two hours. Although I cannot show you the images of the students, I can show you images of Brenda MacKenzie, one of the teachers who also agreed to be a model. The photographers were encouraged to get very close to the models and the models did a superb job of holding still while the photographers composed their pictures and made their exposures. Having digital cameras is also so helpful because we were able to show the models some of the images as soon as they were taken, which helped to feed their understanding of what the photographers were trying to accomplish. We talk about engaging our students – THIS was one of the best examples I have ever seen in my ten years of teaching. The other teachers and I were blown away by the students and their deep desire to simply keep on going.
Eventually the makeup and the cameras were put away and the images were downloaded. Time for the fun to begin. This is when having at least one decent computer and a solid version of Photoshop makes such a difference. We used my lab which has good computers and Photoshop Elements 5.0, because that is what our province has licensed. Why more jurisdictions don’t do this type of licensing is beyond me. Instead of every community trying to negotiate separate licenses our province negotiates on our collective behalf, and everybody wins. We talk about the benefits and perils of standardized testing. We should also be talking about the benefits of standardized resources.
Photoshop Elements 5.0 (and this year the province has upgraded to Photoshop Elements 7.0 and included Premier Elements 7.0 to go along with the existing CS3 Web Standard licensing) is a powerful tool ready to do a lot of what a high school student needs. While it will never equal the full blown versions of Photoshop it was a very capable tool for our student photographers in this project. Cropping and adjusting brightness/contrast were the adjustments made immediately and then one of the students started playing with converting the images to black and white. NOW the images were literally jumping off the page. By delicately adjusting the red/green/blue balance we were able to convert many of the images and make them even more powerful than they had been in colour. In the end approximately fifty images were printed – about half were black and white. Printing, by the way, was not done on proper photo paper – much too expensive. We used a cover weight matte finish brochure paper from a local business supply box store – 150 sheets 8.5 x 11 for $35.00 – and adjusted our little HP bubble jet to high quality prints and went from there. Some images printed beautifully immediately, while others required some additional work to get high quality results. The processing and printing took an entire Sunday afternoon, but the results were worth every minute. When the teachers and students mounted the exhibit they filled an entire wall of our front lobby with posters they had created, all of our prints, and many explanatory pieces that talked about date rape, domestic abuse and similar violent issues.
The display was an incredible success. Hundreds of students stopped to read, examine and take in the message. A couple of teachers (who were not involved in the project) brought their classes down to experience the display. And most telling of all – there was no vandalism. None of the prints were damaged in any way. The principal also agreed to leave the display up for the grade eight parent orientation night when the soon-to-be-grade nines and their parents visit our school for an open house. The display spoke clearly of our students’ involvement and concern and of our school’s willingness to publicly tackle difficult, important issues. A job well done, and Photoshop Elements helped to bring it all to life.
A special thanks goes out to our teacher, Brenda MacKenzie, for her permission to use her pictures.