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Finding beauty in unexpected places

Dale Thompson, Of the Record staff

A picture can speak volumes, and the message Mary Jackson wanted to send her students was one about capturing beauty.

Inspired by Sebastião Salgado, the well-known photographer who documents Third World communities, Jackson helped her students at the Park City Learning Center embark on creating their own photo documentaries. She hoped to motivate her junior and senior English classes to see the beauty in the world around them.

Starting in December, Jackson created a project that required students to think critically about photography and had several objectives in mind for the assignment.

"I was hoping students would see pictures as a form of language communicating what words cannot capture. I wanted them to have the opportunity to see how people live in other parts of the world. I wanted students to find beauty even in the deepest of dark despair. I wanted them to feel and sense human emotions and interact with the pictures quietly to themselves. I wanted them to be able to reflect and discuss their feelings and thoughts on what they viewed," she said.

Their first assignment was to analyze a Salgado photograph using the five senses, and write a vivid description of the picture so anyone not looking at it would be able to visualize the photograph.

After completing the exercise her students went to view the Salgado exhibit, "Exodus," that was on display at the Leonardo at Library Square in Salt Lake City.

Esteban Lopez, a junior, said that he admires Salgado.

"He’s my idol," Lopez said, adding of the exhibit, "It got me thinking."

Jackson asked students to look at the photographs and study ways Salgado employed lighting, angle and other techniques to create a specific mood. This was to help students prepare for creating their own photo documentaries.

Before working on the project they also had to pick a theme to express through their pictures and practice taking action shots as well as nature photographs.

"These were the most beautiful pictures. The students were finally letting go and being creative. At this point I felt they could go out and begin their own projects," Jackson said of the nature pictures.

Some of the themes students explored include guitars, facial expressions and the way light interacts with movement.

Esteban said it was too difficult to pick one theme and decided to make his photo documentary an eclectic mix of subjects.

"You learn a lot from it, it’s not an easy thing to do," he said,

Esteban took more than 50 pictures and selected 15 of his best for the final project. Esteban enjoyed the challenge and hopes to take a photography class in the near future.

Heather Nicole, a junior who asked that her last name not appear in print, was also enthusiastic about taking the pictures.

"It was probably my favorite project that I’ll ever do in English," she said.

Her theme was guitars because she is passionate about them and is currently working on her first CD that includes acoustic and folk music.

Heather added that creating a slide show in PowerPoint was difficult.

Jackson mentioned other challenges in having her students do the project. It was difficult because the digital cameras she had borrowed from the district could only be used during class time and coordinating trips to leave campus was another problem.

In spite of these snags, much of the work impressed her.

"I was overwhelmed with the beauty and photos some my unexpected students presented. I was thrilled to see their perspective on life and what is around them," she said.


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