Antonette, 2018. Digital print.
The student at Vashon High School in St. Louis was having a hard time staying engaged in his art classes. But then he was introduced to photography, recalls Miriam Ruiz. He instantly opened up.
Being behind a camera got the sophomore interested in art, says Ruiz, the school and community programs manager for the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis (CAM).
"Some of the photographs that he produced when he got behind the camera were just really stunning," Ruiz says. "Before that, he had no idea that art was something that he was interested in."
Now, his images are being featured in Vashon through a Lense
, a photography exhibition at UrbArts
(2600 North 14th Street
) that kicks off this Friday, May 4, with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The show, which displays portrait photography from ten Vashon sophomores, runs through May 27.
CAM and Vashon have been working in collaboration since August 2017. Vashon, which is located just north of Grand Center, fits within CAM's one-mile radius initiative, in which staff and local artists work in neighboring schools to initiate programs and projects.
Dominic, 2018. Digital print.
While the museum has previously mounted other art exhibitions featuring Vashon students, Ruiz says the photography aspect gave this one greater impact.
"What made it such a powerful project was the fact that they are already well versed; they have Instagram, Facebook, they all have cell phones," Ruiz says. "They already have this degree of literacy. In this case, it was just kind of formalizing it and just getting them to realize that so much of what they're already doing is contemporary art."
At Vashon, Ruiz works with teacher Tim Jennings, coordinating art projects and programs for students. Starting in January, they have been working with local artist Tiffany Sutton to study portrait photography. Next, they will be working on murals with St. Louis artist Lizzie Martinez.
The photography exhibition will feature portraits of Vashon students, taken by their classmates.
Vashon's student body is 100 percent minority and largely comes from disadvantaged homes. Ruiz says that coupling their experiences with CAM's knowledge and resources brings about powerful work.
"I think what has been really powerful is the stories they have brought to the table and the interests they have," Ruiz says. "They are each unique individuals with a range of experiences that we don't always necessarily encounter in the museum."
Aubrey, 2018. Digital print.
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