20 years of Through the Lens

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Through the Lens is a four-month extracurricular photography program for students from Banff Community High School (BCHS), Canmore Collegiate High School (CCHS) and Morley Community School.

For 20 years, the program has plunged students into the creative process of traditional and digital photography, encouraging participants to experiment and learn about themselves, their community and the exciting medium of visual communication.

Each year, students are involved in field trips, darkroom demonstrations, critiques, portrait workshops and presentations by exhibiting photographers. At the end of each program, the student’s work is exhibited at Banff’s Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

The opening reception for the exhibition is an exciting time, not only for student participants, but for the community, which gets to take in the Bow Valley through the incredible creativity and vision of its youth.

The one of a kind program is a partnership with the Canadian Rockies Public Schools and the Stoney Education Authority. Students are given the opportunity to use the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (SAIT) darkroom to develop their final images.

“It’s one of its only kind in Canada; it is a treat beyond belief that these students get to go there,” said Through the Lens founder Craig Richards.

“Every year what I do is bring in George Webber, a photographer who’s probably one of Canada’s top three or four documentary photographers, and a darkroom printer who helps the students, as well as photographer Diane Bos, who’s a huge Canadian artist photographer.”

The students were bussed to SAIT (CCHS on Jan. 10, BCHS on Jan. 12) for a full day of exposure, where they print their exhibition photographs.

“We divide the students, so each expert gets to work with about three students and go over selections. We help and guide them, but ultimately it’s them making prints and making decisions,” Richards said. “They leave there with the sense of accomplishment that not only did I do the last four months but I printed my photographs for the exhibition.”

“All of us got as much film as we could shoot and I took as many pictures as I could throughout the program. I tried to do as many different things as I could,” said CCHS Grade 11 student Amanda O’Connor McTigue.

“I like the feeling I get when I take a picture I’m proud of and being able to capture a moment you can remember. There’s always some kind of personal aspect behind someone’s photos.”

“It was a really good program and I learned so much from it; since being accepted I’ve gotten a lot more into it, and whenever I go anywhere now I have my camera with me,” said CCHS Grade 12 student Anna Sellers.

From September to when the students start printing, Richards holds a darkroom workshop with them, a developing negatives workshop and gives them as much chemistry, film and paper as they can photograph and print with.

Students end up spending a lot of their own time going into the darkroom and printing their work from film, a medium not at the forefront for 21st century students.

“Digital photography has revitalized the world of photography, but I truly believe analogue photography is always going to be around,” said Richards. “I would love nothing more than for past alumni, past teachers – anybody who’s been remotely involved and following this – to come and celebrate 20 years, because in all honesty I don’t think there is another program like this ever, anywhere in the world that has continued and had the support and worked with youth and it’s about community.”

The Through the Lens: 20th Anniversary general opening reception starts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 4, with the exhibit running to April 2 in the Whyte Museum Main Gallery.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook