Photography project gives area students new perspective

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comAugust 16, 2013 

— French photographer Marc Riboud once said, "Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."

For 18 months, photographer Roger Wyan has been showing young people in Merced County the personal enrichment and value that comes from capturing life through the eye of a lens.

In that capacity, he's worked as the project manager of the Venice Art documentary photography program, which is geared toward showing high school students the ropes of digital photography.

Perhaps more importantly, the program is focused on illustrating the power of the camera and multi-media in telling a story.

"It's an incredible way for them to become engaged in their community," said Wyan, 58. "We've found that kids who might not do well in, say, a traditional classroom; when you put a camera in their hands … they just sort of naturally 'get it.' They kind of know what to do. In our class, we just refine some of their skills."

The works from Wyan's time with the students will be displayed in a new exhibit titled "Looking Back." An opening reception is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 24 at Wyan's photography studio, 1812 Canal St., in downtown Merced.

The grant-funded program was made possible through a collaboration between the California Endowment, Venice Arts Youth and Building Healthy Communities.

The exhibit includes three projects the students worked on during the 18-month period. During that time, Wyan would meet with 10 to 15 students after school, helping them hone their craft.

Projects in the exhibit include "It's Not All Peaches and Cream," a photographic exhibition about homelessness in the community; "Planada Rising," a photographic portrait of the small farming town east of Merced; and "Breaking the Cycle," a photographic look at addiction in Merced County.

Wyan encouraged the students to be creative and use multimedia.

One of his students, Jose Ramos, wrote a rap song to go with a multimedia photo essay for "Planada Rising." That photo essay will be shown during the Aug. 24 reception, and it's also available on YouTube.

Wyan hopes photography causes students to ask questions about their subjects and the environment around them.

Alyssa Castro, 20, a youth mentor with the program who first met Wyan after taking his class, said she's seen firsthand the positive impact photography made on the students.

"The cool thing was seeing how these students really shined through photography," Castro said, "especially the continuation schools that we went to."

Wyan and Castro held discussions in the classroom with the youth about the subjects and issues they photographed. Wyan said he was particularly affected when they opened up about their experiences in dealing with the subject of addiction.

"Personally, I was really taken aback by how widespread the problem was and how close to home substance abuse is," Wyan said.

"Looking Back" runs until Sept. 30 at Wyan's studio. After the reception, the exhibit can be viewed by appointment by calling Wyan's studio.

Wyan gives individual photography lessons, classes for youth and portraits.

For more information call (209) 631-6692 or visit www.rogerwyan.com.

'Looking Back' exhibit is culmination of 18 monthsof teaching high school students photography skills

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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