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How the NYPL uses photography to help students graduate

Students host their first exhibit at the Columbus Library branch.

The class celebrates after their first photography show.

NYPL/Richert Schnorr

Like most teenagers, high school senior Joshua Nowell had mastered the art of taking and posting selfies to social media but hadn’t really considered photography as an art form beyond that. That all changed when officials at his school encouraged him to enroll in the Innovation Labs program at the Columbus Library.

“My school said, ‘Hey, you need an art credit [to graduate], go to this program’ and at first I thought ‘oh it’s a photography program, oh I don’t know,’” recalls Nowell, a senior at The Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology. “But eventually I started to love this program.”

A joint project between the library and the Magnum Foundation, completion of the class allows students to earn credit towards graduation. Run by Bridget McCormick, the Education Coordinator at the Columbus Library, the class meets two afternoons a week and taught students both the basics of photography and how to write about and cover a community.“The vast majority of students don’t live in this neighborhood so this is a way for the students to discover the neighborhood in a new way,” explains McCormick.

The students would meet and photograph local residents and businesses, creating a unique profile of the area in the process. Last Thursday, the class debuted its first-ever show on the second floor of the library where the class was held. “We ended up titling the show ‘Our Kitchen’ instead of 'Hell’s Kitchen,'” says McCormick. “We did use NYPL’s resources to research where those names came from and we came to the conclusion that there was nothing hellish about the neighborhood, they found the people here really friendly.”

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As the students and their families sipped sparkling non-alcoholic cider while viewing the results of their months of work, many said that they hoped to incorporate photography into their careers in the future. Stephanie Llamas, a senior at Food and Finance High School, says she hopes to go to culinary school after graduation and often photographs the recipes she makes. She also says the class has made her more aware of the little things around here.

“I notice when I wake up in the morning I notice things like the sunrise more, so I’ll take a picture of that and then I’ll put them up on Instagram and I notice that I get a lot more likes,” says Llamas.

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

 
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