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High school students focus on photography

WELLPINIT, Wash. - It seemed an unlikely connection: a successful New York photographer with several books to her credit spending three months teaching high school students about black and white photography on an Indian reservation on the opposite side the country. It did happen and it was extremely successful.

Kristin Capp is the photographer. The students are from Wellpinit High School on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Funding for the project was provided by a grant through the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane.

The project seemed destined to succeed from the beginning. Capp had ancestral ties to the region through grandparents who had homesteaded in the Wellpinit area about 100 years ago. She previously had photographs on exhibit at the MAC and had remained in touch. On the other side, the MAC has also worked closely with the Spokane Tribe and students from the tribe have sometimes interned at the museum. The MAC had the grant, Capp was the person they selected and the Wellpinit school had both the connection with the MAC and the right number of students in art classes to fill her needs.

Penny Spencer is culture coordinator at the school and Donna Julich teaches art. Both were excited about the idea.

''We just immersed our art classes into photography,'' Julich said. ''When the students weren't taking photos or printing, we were watching videos so it all focused on photography.''

The class began with 21 high school students, each of whom was provided with a camera and plenty of black and white film.

''Her technique was to show students how cameras worked and to send them out to shoot. The more they shot, the better they liked it. She liked interesting angles. You can see her input in their photos. It kind of reflects her style,'' Jurich added.

Students shot only with available light and learned to edit contact sheets, selecting only the better ones for working on in the darkroom at the MAC where they learned print making and enlarging. The class met at the MAC, some 50 miles away, every other week to print photos.

The MAC has a massive collection of Native photos, but most were taken by Anglo photographers a century ago. This project offered students an opportunity to capture the culture today from the standpoint of a Native teenager.

Tribal elder Pauline Flett told of accompanying the students on a boat trip on Lake Roosevelt.

''We wanted the kids to know the stories along the rivers,'' she said. ''There are stories and history and legends. It made an impression on me when I was younger and our goal is to give the kids that same impression and know the importance of their culture, their history and their families.''

Julich talked of how the class affected the students.

''Some students that normally wouldn't be much involved in school related stuff - just hanging on - this nabbed them. ... One mentioned he just wouldn't stop taking pictures. Another was not doing much in school, but with a camera in his hands he was seeing things totally differently. I see several going on with photography because of this. One wants to take photography classes at Spokane Community College. Another may go into commercial photography.''

The students had similar comments.

''I thought it was really great,'' Adrian Bird said. ''It was really cool because it was an experience I never had before. I really took full advantage of the opportunity and I actually came out really good! It just kind of clicked with me. I'm thinking now when I go to college I will use that as a minor or maybe even a major. That small opportunity in high school was a really great thing for me. It's really cool!''

Nickole McCoy said, ''I really liked the class. They didn't give us restrictions on what to take pictures of. My favorite was landscapes.''