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Photo Feature

The Kids Stay in the Picture

Jackie Payne, 12, Poppleton
"I think it's like a trapeze act."
"The Moving Portrait"
Mich'l Melvin, 11, Westside
"The picture that I took is right at the side of my house on a corner. The person that is moving is my sister Courtney. The other person is her friend Jordyn. I also have another sister whose name is also Jordyn. I took this picture because it was for my sister."
"NightTime Stop"
Mik'la Aguirre, 12, Hampden
"The background is dark because I took it at nighttime. There is graffiti on the stop sign. Sometimes if you don't stop at a stop sign a car might hit your car and may get hurt."
"Bored and Lonesome"
Amanda Way, 12, Westside
"In this picture it is as if the lady sitting on the couch is bored and lonely. Also everyone around here are doing something, and she is just sitting there staring into space."
"America the Beautiful"
Rach'l Griffith, 11, Hampden
"I was standing on my porch and I thought it would be a nice picture, so I took a picture of my flag. It was windy so I got it in time."
"Self Portrait"
Joseph Wiseman, 12, Boyd Street
"This picture shows myself and shows a lot of my physical components. The white writing was made by marking on the negative--when you develop it, it comes out white. I take a lot of things seriously and that comes through in this picture."
"My Favorite Little Friend"
Laura Bowers, 12, McHenry/Lumber Yard Park
"I took this photo because it has my best friend's nephew in it. His name is Niko, and he is 2 years old. I like to take the photo because he was dancing in the street--he was dancing to 'Uh-Oh.'"
"Traveling Downtown"
Amanda Way, 12, Westside
"I feel that my picture is good for a first year in photography. In this picture, I was trying to get the people or cars/bikes in motion, and I met my standards. If you focus at the bike and car wheels, you see them in motion."
"American Flag"
Toni Meeker, 13, Hampden
"The picture is a doctor's office. It has an American flag in the window."
"Girl in Motion"
Courtney Alday, 12, Lemon Street
"The picture was actually a mistake. I was trying to take a picture of the graffiti on the wall but my friend ran by. I thought she ruined it, but it came out to be a good picture."
"A Kid Doing Bad Things"
Bradlee Brooks, 10, Hampden
"I wanted to get somebody doing something bad. The boy is standing on the railing, and the principal would not allow that in her/his school."
"Wire Lines"
Lacey Zielezinski, 12, Lumber Yard Park
"I thought the power lines looked cool. They were going everywhere. This place was an interesting place to take a picture. I used a worm's eye view to take this photo."
"My Little Friend Debbie"
Ebony DeGrace, 13, Lexington Terrace
"I took this picture of this doll named Debbie out in the hallway of my house. I was trying to be creative with my art and pictures. I like the face of the doll and how it looked in the picture."
Bradlee Brooks, 10, Hampden
"I took Rebecca's picture because she asked me to. Her hand says 'Peace.'"
Light for all: (from left) youthlight participants Joe Wiseman, Tyshera Pinkett, Lacey Zielezinski, Markia Simpson, Jackie Payne, Coray Cinefrano, program head Marshall Clarke, and Jason Ferrell in front of a Youthlight-produced billboard in Hampden.

Photo courtesy Youthlight

"Peace Portrait"
Rebecca Elliot, 12, Hampden
"Peace is important. I made this because I think people need to know that peace is important."
"The Head"
Jackie Payne, 12, Poppleton
"The photo is a picture of Joseph. It is a designed picture of hands over the original image's face. The hands connecting leaves just enough space for the face of Joseph. I did this because it was my favorite photo and Lacey--another person in my class--was doing photographs, and I used the techniques she was using with an actual photo."

By Lee Gardner | Posted 11/5/2003

The table overflows with rows and stacks of 8x10 black-and-white photos, taken by dozens of photographers who seem to each be working in a different style: studio portraiture, on-the-fly street scenes, prints altered by stark white "shadows" added craftily during the development process, candid shots of families marked by a documentarian's unblinking eye, almost abstract compositions of American flags in dusty store windows. Yet despite the myriad styles and aesthetics on display, all the photos have two important things in common: They were all shot in North Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood or in Southwest Baltimore's Poppleton/Hollins neighborhood by photographers who live in those areas, and all of the photographers are between 10 and 14 years old.

The prints represent two years of work from Youthlight, an after-school program started in November 2001 by Marshall Clarke. The 32-year-old Towson native and freelance photographer had already taught basic photography to kids as a tool to promote social justice through the American Friends Service Committee, but he says he wanted to expand that work. A grant from the Open Society Institute provided the funding. His connections as a adult-literacy tutor at the Learning Bank in Southwest Baltimore provided an avenue into working with kids in that neighborhood; the program expanded to include Hampden after Clarke, who often hangs out in the area, says he "always saw kids around, seemingly doing nothing."

Clarke and his assistants (including City Paper contributing photographers Uli Loskot and Frank Klein) handed out inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras to about 25 kids and taught them the basics of photography and darkroom techniques. In addition, Clarke says, they also taught media literacy: "Looking at media critically," he says, "figuring out what questions to ask: Who makes it? What are they trying to sell me, or how are they trying to influence me? What information is missing from the media that they're getting?"

Armed with Clarke and company's instruction, the Youthlight participants "made their own media," Clarke says. The students were set to work brainstorming, designing, and shooting public-service billboards to go up in their neighborhoods with messages ranging from discouraging crime and littering to encouraging young people to work toward their dreams. Clarke has also arranged several Youthlight exhibits, including at community centers in each neighborhood and a show at Remington's Angelfall Studios Gallery opening on Nov. 26.

Just as much as the program might help prepare budding artists for a career, Clarke underscores that Youthlight has more to offer the kids who participate than knowing the difference between an F-stop and a bus stop. "Certain kids have a lot of problems, so they're pulled in a lot of directions," he says. "I think photography gives them a way to focus their attention, give them something to do, but also something to be positive about."

Youthlight has already run through its Open Society grant money, and is continuing at least through the end of the current school year with the help of grants from Time Warner, the Maryland Arts Council (via the Hampden Family Center), and the Baltimore Community Foundation (via the House of Mercy). As witnessed on the following pages, it has already succeeded in creating a striking portrait of Baltimore as seen through unlikely eyes. Clarke says that while the program has made an impact on the lives of the kids involved, the billboards and exhibits have also made an important impression on some key grownups as well.

"In Hampden, I think there's a lot of tension between some of the adults and some of the kids," Clarke says. "Some of the adults think the kids don't do much, they just hang around. At the exhibits I've heard feedback from people saying, 'I can't believe these are kids from Hampden who have done this.' So I think it's on some level helping show the adults what the kids are capable of, and that if you give them something positive to do, they can really step up to the plate and do something."

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