Through the Lens celebrates 15th year
Fifteen years ago, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies created an outreach program to introduce students to photography.
Inspired by the remarkable portraits of Tibetans by Phil Borges, which were on display at the Whyte at that time, museum staff wanted to use photography to help Bow Valley students learn about their world, themselves and their community.
Headed by Craig Richards, the Whyte’s curator of photography, the museum launched Through the Lens and, over the past 15 years, the program has immersed nearly 600 students from Banff, Canmore and Morley in film and digital photography.
To celebrate this milestone, the Whyte Museum is planning next year to launch a 15th anniversary hardcover book featuring 140 to 150 of the best photos created since 1997.
The book will also include a DVD filled with the 1,800 photographs that have been displayed at the annual Through the Lens exhibition held each February at the Whyte Museum. This exhibition has become a cornerstone of Exposure: Calgary Banff Canmore Photography Festival, which the Whyte Museum established in 2004.
“I firmly believe that this book is going to get national attention because when I look at the past Through the Lens photographs in the collection and we narrow that down to 140, 150 images, it is truly going to be an outstanding photography book and people are going to go, ‘this is done by high school students? This is incredible’.” Richards said.
Through the Lens – 15th Anniversary exhibition opens Saturday (Feb. 4) with a reception from 7-9 p.m. The show will remain on display until April 1.
The Whyte is hosting two other openings that night at the same time as Through the Lens as part of Exposure 2012 – Coal Mining Stalwarts: Photographs by Lawrence Chrismas and The Bread with Honey: Photographs by Andrew Querner.
A number of exhibition openings, also part of Exposure, are planned throughout Banff and Canmore that same evening, as well. For a full schedule of events, go to www.exposurephotofestival.com
Over the years, Through the Lens students have consistently created excellent photographs, demonstrating that Richards’ passion for photography hits home every time and the results always surpass his expectations.
This year is no exception. Richards said the 10 students from Banff and Canmore and eight from Morley participating in this year’s program have met the challenge.
And even for students not necessarily planning to carry on and pursue photography – but it most certainly does open that door – Through the Lens has many unanticipated benefits.
Banff students Ellie Wakabayashi, Danielle Fish and Morgan Niehaus have each found inspiration and even magic in the process of photography, particularly in the darkroom where they have discovered the old-school pleasure of watching under the soft red light their photographs seemingly appear from nothing.
“It makes you see a different way too. You get the feeling you’re capturing that moment because it is never going to come again. It makes you more creative too,” Wakabayashi said. “It’s really cool when you’re in the darkroom and you’re printing and it just appears on the paper like magic.” Wakabayashi’s photograph Autumn Snowstorm is being featured on the exhibition posters and banners.
Over the course of the five-month program, Wakabayashi, who has taken over 1,000 digital photographs and 10 rolls of film during the past five months of the program, hopes someday to have her own solo show.
Fish, who is completing Through the Lens for the second time, said she was surprised to discover she could recall the details behind nearly every photograph she took during the program.
“My dad always takes pictures,” Fish said, “and we’ve got hundreds, thousands, millions of pictures on the computer, but I look at pictures I take, especially with film, and they all mean something to me. I can look at almost every negative I’ve got and say ‘that is where I was’. I remember where I was, what I was doing, what the day was like.
“I can look at each picture and see what it means and it’s really cool to see that,” Fish said. “I remember the pictures I’ve taken and that’s really cool.”
Niehaus, meanwhile, said she has learned that the simple act of taking pictures and recording memories is worthwhile.
“In my family, we don’t take pictures. We never, ever have pictures. As I get older I’d like to keep a camera with me just to take pictures travelling or not travelling, I’ll have the pictures there for memories,” she said. “Now I have a greater appreciation for photography. Where before I just thought it was a picture, now I know what goes into it.”
While on the surface it may appear that Richards is teaching photography, he’s actually helping students develop confidence, self esteem, new skills and a new way to communicate and understand that experimentation is a key ingredient to making great photographs.
“I learn form these guys too, because they don’t have rules, they break them all and the more you become a photographer the more the limitations. You break all the rules and it is successful,” Richards said.
But all of that may not be clear to the students as they learn about F-stops, filters, chemistry and the subtleties between digital and film photography.
It often takes a few years, and quite often not until the students have completed school do they begin to understand what they learned in Through the Lens.
Three-time Through the Lens alumnus Rachel Boekel, a Canmore graduate who now lives in Brooks, Ab where she works as a portrait and wedding photographer, had no idea the program would lead her to become a professional photographer.
“It wasn’t that clear to me during the program, but Craig’s enthusiasm and his confidence (in the students) in allowing them to making mistakes and making that okay; that was huge,” Boekel said.
The confidence Richards instills in the students through the program helped Boekel develop a firmer sense of her place in the Bow Valley and the world. It has also allowed her to find a way to communicate, while helping her keep her feet firmly planted.
“Because it is like my grounding thing. When I’m taking photos, it doesn’t matter if I’m on holidays, if I’m working or at home, it is what I do. It is how I see the world, how I interact with the world,” Boekel said.
And the key of Through the Lens isn’t the cameras, film and computers. Boekel said that without Richards, Through the Lens wouldn’t be the same.
“Craig Richards is important. You can’t have a 15-year program and passionate students every year and so many people who continue on in photography without someone guiding you and showing you what it is about and letting you make mistakes. The program is exceptional, but it has to do with the energy. It’s Craig,” she said.
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