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Eyes up, heart open

Carla Ten Eyck

teaching the everyday

Last week I had twenty-four high school kids from Classical Magnet school in Hartford take a field trip to my studio to hear about creating portraits. I showed them some portrait work I had done, many of which were shot on the beaches of Grand Cayman. To them this exotic location excited them but then instantly stifled their process. I was ready for that, in fact I had planned on it, but I still wasn’t sure how I was going to proceed with what I had planned.

One of my most favorite quotes is this one by Marcel Proust: ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

This is the struggle many photographers face. How to see our everyday in an exciting new way. And this… this was the crux of what I wanted to balance my portrait lesson on.. this seeing my everyday in a new way.

After sharing my portrait work I explained that I would be creating a portrait of every kid there. I was explaining how while talking, I was looking at how the light was falling on them, where I liked it, where I was inspired by it. They looked at each other and nervously laughed. I got my first volunteer and tried to explain what I saw and why, but it was an odd angle for anyone but me and maybe two others to see what I was going for. Hmm. Not to be detered, I kept going, having faith that I would find my footing. My next volunteer made her way down the stairs to me, and as she hit the bottom she looked up at me and I caught my breath instantly. ‘STOP!’ I shouted at her. ‘Stop. Right. THERE!’

The light in that spot. My everyday. My boring steps. THAT LIGHT!! And then it hit me. I would create a portrait of each kid right in that spot, and try to change it up as much as I could all while creating a beautiful image. The kids were hesitant at first. But I made them look at the light. Asked each kid to turn this way and that. Asked the group to help me style everyone. ‘Coat on or off?’ I would ask. ‘What’s the first thing you see? Their red scarf? Then it’s gotta go if it’s distracting.’ I watched them catch on, excitedly changing up peoples looks. Coats off. Sit on the floor. Knees up. Hood down. Hood up. Look this way. Relax. Smile. NEXT! I banged out twenty four portraits in about 50 minutes, all while teaching, asking questions, guiding. Making each one of them comfortable.

My favorite part, aside from the photographer part of me being given this amazing opportunity to create these portraits, was watching the way they saw light and people and expression evolve in less than two hours after walking into my studio.

My next favorite part will be coming back to their school while they work on creating their own portraits in their everyday. In their boring. And watching how they way they see their everyday boring evolves and grows and forever changes how they see.

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