Fourteen students in Medomak Valley High School’s advanced photography class have kept busy taking pictures of students and staff members at the Waldoboro high school, documenting why each and every one of them matters.
According to Brooke Holland, an art teacher at the high school, the class is working on a school-wide photography project, taking hundreds of portraits for the #WhyYouMatter photo campaign, a project that originated at a school in Alabama.
Holland said the plan to bring the photography campaign to Waldoboro originated at a 2019 conference in Boston, the National Art Education Association Conference. “There I heard art teachers from Alabama’s Chelsea High School’s presentation on their community art project, #WhyYouMatter, in response to some student deaths,” she said in a recent email interview.
“We are trying to get portraits of as much of the school and staff (as we can) and asking them, ‘Why do you matter?’” Holland said.
The plan is to hang up the portraits taken by the students in the class at a school-district-wide art show in March, according to Holland. According to a press release from the school, the photos will be displayed on 11-by-18-inch posters.
The press release describes the effort as a public art campaign that focuses on empowering students while fostering a positive school climate where all people feel supported and valued, thus explaining why the photography campaign is titled #WhyYouMatter.
For the project, students have taken black-and-white photographs of students and staff, according to the press release, which said that each person photographed wrote a personal message on a small whiteboard, stating why they matter.
Photography subjects brought two whiteboards with them into the art room’s photo studio, one with their names, for organizational purposes, and the other with their personal statement.
The statements highlighted a number of qualities of the student body and their instructors, with various answers on why they matter, such as “because I can make you laugh,” “because I am passionate about what I love,” “because I care deeply about making an active, positive difference in the lives of students and staff,” “because I am a listening ear and I offer good advice,” and “because I love my job and care about students and am doing the best I can.”
The press release states students and staff worked together in the photo studio, helping one another with their personal statements, assisting with the articulation of their message or giving them the pep talk they need on why they matter.
According to Holland, she thought such a project would be a great way to bring the community at Medomak Valley High School together.
“I want students to feel loved, empowered, and know that they are special. A project like this brings people together both in the making and in the presenting. This project and artwork like this resonates with me because I want to make a difference in this world, and art has the power to bring people together,” Holland said.
The photography project slowly built momentum, and to date, the advanced photography class has had over 250 people sit for portraits, according to Holland.
“We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without a supportive administration and staff. I greatly appreciate everyone’s encouragement and open-mindedness,” Holland said.
Holland said the class prepared for the project with a portrait unit and organization of image files prior to rolling it out, adding there has also been some learning on the job due to the size and scope of the project.
Holland said the class has been assisted by community volunteer, firefighter, and photographer Kyle Santheson, adding that the project would not have been possible without Santheson. “He has volunteered with my advanced photography class since November. Kyle has come in for every class, helping with the portrait unit first, and the setup and organization of this project. Since it has rolled out, he has been there to help the students with any technical assistance and he has been graciously printing out the portraits hours at a time. I am forever grateful for his contribution to my students and to the success of this project,” Holland said.
Holland said the students were a huge part of the campaign’s success, too. “We found a good flow after the first week and a half. I cannot stress more how the students stepped up to the plate, coming in during study halls, lunch, and after school to take portraits and to promote the project,” Holland said.
According to Holland, many students in the class exceeded requirements, aiding in the campaign’s success. “Students were required to take 20 portraits. I have had several exceed over 50,” she said.
Santheson said he worked with students on photography skills, helping them to employ soft light and hard light in their portraits, in addition to working with the students to set up the classroom studio where all the photos would be taken.
According to Santheson, students have been working on the project for the past few months and are wrapping up their work. “They’re trying to wrap up the last portraits this week and the photos will be on display as part of the district’s art show in March,” he said.