East Valley Tribune, Phoenix, AZ

December 28th, 2007
Photography students compare lives via pictures

Four Gilbert High School advanced-placement photography students are using disposable cameras to level the playing field in a project with high school students in Ghana.

The students are sharing photographs, creating photo collages and comparing their lives, hopes and fears.

Through the photos, they are examining stereotypes, discovering commonalities and differences and learning about each others’ cultures.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” said Gilbert High senior Shaena Espinoza, while searching for the perfect photo from a table covered with photographs.

The project is a collaboration with 16 other Valley high school students from four high schools. The students are working with renowned photographer Lyle Ashton Harris, Arizona State University graduate photography students and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The culminating project will be an exhibit set up by the students and displayed at the Scottsdale museum in February. The exhibit will coincide with a photography exhibit of Harris’ work.

Harris teaches at New York University and has a program in Accra, Ghana where he teaches high school students with his NYU photography graduate students.

“I don’t know many high school students who get this chance,” said Alexa Overby, a photography teacher and department head of visual arts at Gilbert High.

Overby chose the four Gilbert students after asking her AP photo students to apply. The Gilbert students are working with Peter Bugg, an ASU photography graduate student and head intern at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The first part of the project had the students answering questions about their fears and dreams, their daily routines and what their room looked like at home. This gave the students a chance to compare answers and find out more about each other.

Next, the students took pictures of their interpretation of what life is like over in Ghana, while the Ghana students photographed what they imagine life to be in America. The photos will be posted and shared online, and a videoconference with the Ghana students is planned in January.

“We haven’t seen a lot of the images yet because of technical problems, but we’ve enjoyed getting together with the other (Valley) high school students,” Espinoza said.

Two of the Gilbert High students took photos of what they imagined to be the American influence in Ghana, such as McDonald’s, basketball and skateboarding.

The other two tried to construct Ghana in Gilbert High senior Jeff Poirier’s garage. They used fruit, Moroccan clothing, blankets and bamboo mats to re-create what they imagined life to be in Ghana.

One of the biggest challenges is the use of the disposable cameras.

The Gilbert students are used to high-tech digital photography, but with disposable photo equipment, the students have to plan out their photos more before shooting.

“It’s interesting, because that’s all they have over there (in Ghana),” said Gilbert High senior Madeline Grade. “This forces us to take more time and compose our pictures better.”

In January, the students will work together to create photo collages, individual images and personal items to design an exhibit for the museum in the Young at Art gallery.

Harris will also discuss his work and talk with the students in late January, Overby said.

“We all have our own vision of what the final project will look like,” said Gilbert High senior Alyson Heimbigner. “I’m looking forward to the outcome and the experience of it all.”