- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

A group of area middle and high school students developed colorful memories from a summer program in which they snapped black-and-white pictures of their hometown.

Peering through a camera lens granted the children a sharper view of Brookland and Shaw, the two neighborhoods in the District of Columbia chosen for the National Building Museum's fifth annual "Investigating Where We Live" program.

Highlights from the children's burgeoning portfolios will be on display as part of an exhibit culled from the project. The show, underwritten by the Citigroup Foundation, runs through Sept. 30.

The 19 children were partnered with professional and amateur photographers, who helped them corral their enthusiasm into finished prints.

The children left the program with new point-and-shoot cameras. They also came away with a better understanding of the two neighborhoods and their residents.

Scott Dine of Annapolis, Md., a former photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, helped the children focus on the assignment at hand during the five-week program.

"The great thing about it is there's a sense of discovery," Mr. Dine says of working alongside the neophyte photographers. "They run across a '57 Chevy and they think it's neat."

The show, which includes portraits and biographies of the young artists, doesn't just gather photographs to tell its story. The students, ages 11 to 15 and primarily from D.C. schools, combined art with their prints to create visually arresting panels.

One such display compares art to graffiti, with snapshots of graffiti-strewn buildings making a more compelling statement than any editorial might.

The exhibit's subject matter ranged from churches and crucifixes to telephone booths and mangled automobiles.

"They were quick to delineate what was worth keeping and what wasn't," Mr. Dine says of the images collected.

Out in the field, the young shutterbugs surprised Mr. Dine with their depth of understanding.

"Most of the questions were content-oriented," he says. "I was amazed at the details they saw."

Michael A. Hill, outreach programs coordinator with the museum, says the lessons made sure the children learned about the people living in the selected neighborhoods.

Students interviewed residents about their hometowns, quizzing them about the small pleasures their communities afforded and how the neighborhoods had changed through the years.

That helped the children learn about the communities as much as the photography work did.

"They had to do more thinking as to what was common to each neighborhood," Mr. Hill says of the process.

Brookland photographer Sheila Galagan says the children's enthusiasm for the project started quietly but built through the process.

"The kids had a really good time. They were like sponges, absorbing information," Ms. Galagan says.

And they had more than enough information from which to select.

"They had to think in constructive ways what was important [for the exhibit]," she says. "Most did a good job of synthesizing that information."

The Franciscan Monastery near Catholic University drew particular attention from the teens, she says, as did the statue of Saint Sebastian, the martyr pelted with arrows.

She recalls one day when they interviewed a diverse group of neighborhood residents, with their cameras tucked safely away.

"That was one of the days they really got involved in the neighborhoods," she says. "We really tried to show the diversity … they really appreciated that."

Zenas Chang, 11, of Glendale, Md., found shooting black-and-white film to be a dramatic change from the color photography.

"When I got my first proof sheet back, it didn't turn out the way I thought," Zenas says.

What became clear as he explored the two neighborhoods was how the camera changed how he saw the environment.

"The first time I came, I didn't pay any attention [to the neighborhoods]," Zenas says. But on subsequent visits, he says he absorbed more details.

And with a new camera at his disposal, he says he may fire off a few rolls of film on his own.

Fellow photographer Jennifer Franklin, 13, of Fort Washington, Md., captured spare images of local churches, plus pictures of a mother sitting on her front porch with a baby on her lap.

"I've never been to Shaw before," she says. But she found the neighborhood to be as pleasant a surprise as the photographic process.

"I'm going to keep on taking pictures," she promises.

Karen Franklin, Jennifer's mother, says the program had a positive impact on her daughter.

"Initially, they were reluctant to participate," she says of her daughter and the rest of the children, particularly when it came to the interview assignments. "[Jennifer] was shy … then she opened up. I think she's very artistic."

The assignments also introduced her daughter to previously unexplored parts of the city.

"I like the whole 'getting to know the neighborhood,' " she says. "I don't bring them into the city enough."

For Dara Jordan, 13, of Columbia Heights, the program gave her an intimate glimpse of a neighborhood she knew little about.

"I had the impression that Brookland wasn't friendly, but people were nice," Dara says.

The program also gave her new insights into photography.

"I've taken pictures before, but I learned how to really take pictures," she says.

WHAT: "Investigating Where We Live" at the National Building Museum

WHEN: Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., through Sept. 30

WHERE: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW

ADMISSION: Free

PHONE: 202/272-2448

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