MID-CITY — A summer’s worth of student photography will become a neighborhood’s worth of dialogue in an effort to reanimate the Mid-City area of Santa Monica.
For eight weeks, 15 teenagers ages 14-17 have met every Wednesday at the Police Activities League (PAL) with photojournalist, and Daily Press contributing photographer, Fabian Lewkowicz for an hour and a half to learn the basics of digital photography, photojournalism and caption writing. They have used Canon point-and-shoot cameras given to them for the duration of the program, which is free.
“It was a kind of revitalization effort, if you will,” said director of PAL Eula Fritz. “This effort was to get kids involved in their community, and really what does this community mean to you?”
Fritz said the program, called Kids with Cameras, is a two-part project. The first is “exposing kids to something they haven’t before,” she said. The second is to get adults talking about the Mid-City neighborhood and ways to improve and enliven it. The kids are catapulting the dialogue among the neighborhood adults.
While some of the kids involved in the program may own digital cameras at home, others don’t have regular access to one, and almost all the teenagers learned photography basics for the first time. Fritz said some of them can now entertain the idea of becoming professional photojournalists, an option many had probably not considered before.
Every week, Lewkowicz gave the teenagers a new assignment for the day, shooting at different places in the area from Olympic Boulevard to Wilshire Boulevard and from Centinela Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard.
“The purpose of all these assignments was to illustrate the Mid-City neighborhood,” he said.
Samohi students Edgar Sernas and Yaser Garmakani are regular PAL-goers who participated in the class.
“I liked going out to other places, visiting our city and taking pictures of our city,” Sernas said. “For me, it was a good experience … because I never really got a chance to do this.”
Garmakani was more interested in the learning process.
“I liked to learn the basic functions of a camera,” he said. “I liked it, but the thing is, I don’t know if I want to do it as a career or job.”
Garmakani, who would like to play soccer professionally, most enjoyed taking self-portraits, often using a mirror. Other assignments included going to a church and various parks around the city, Lewkowicz said.
“We had to take portraits, and then there was texture, when you take a picture of something with a lot of shapes and ridges and stuff like that,” Garmakani said. “We went to Douglas Park, Memorial Park, Bergamot Station, and we just viewed other people’s pictures, and we went to Saint Anne’s. I liked Saint Anne’s because there was a lot of things to take pictures of like sculptures and statues and flowers and stuff like that.”
“I liked taking pictures of objects,” Sernas said. “We went to the Bourget Bros. and took pictures of rocks and stones. It came out pretty nice. … I liked taking pictures of textures like flowers and plants and rocks.”
The idea for a free photography and caption-writing class originated at the Human Relations Council with Michele Wittig, who brought the idea to the board and to the Dialogue Event Committee, where it was fleshed out.
“We really wanted to focus on an area where the neighborhood association had been dormant for a few years,” said Ilda Jimenez y West, a member of the committee.
“In a sense, all the pictures they have taken are of places and people in the Mid-City community,” Fritz said. “These pictures are meant to engage dialogue. It’s all about people coming together.”
She added the primary focus of the program was the community and its assets.
“Fabian and I and Eula really tried to conceptualize a class that would not only capture the youth’s leading interests over the summer, but also pass down a skill set that they could carry on forward, and even think of a career,” Jimenez y West said.
The eight-week program finishes today, but many of the photographs taken over the course of the class will be showcased in an exhibit at McKinley Elementary School on Oct. 3.
“I’m going to try to pick one photo from each assignment, from each kid,” Lewkowicz said.
The kids may also sit on a panel to discuss what each photograph and each subject of the photograph means to them to get the dialogue started.
“We’re grooming youth leaders all while investing in their community,” Jimenez y West said.