NORTH HAVEN, Maine — The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph — you make it.”
The 20 North Haven and Vinalhaven high school students involved in this week’s National Geographic Photo Camp learned just that, as they clicked their way around, documenting life in their island communities.
“Kids love their neighborhoods, no matter if they live in New York City or rural Maine,” said Lindsay McCullough, program director for the Photo Camps, which occur each year in locations all over the United States and the world. “Giving them a camera allows them to document their lives and the lives of their friends and families. It’s not necessarily about photography — it’s about story-telling.”
Armed with professional-quality Olympus cameras, the students were led by National Geographic photographers Matt Moyer and Amy Toensing, who taught them about light, aperture, framing and other tricks of the trade. Students went out on a boat, took hikes in fields and forests, and poked around the harbor areas of both islands, taking pictures of boats, flowers, houses, people and anything else that looked interesting.
“One thing I’ve been impressed with, with all the kids I’ve worked with, is that they are so engaged in their communities,” said Moyer, who previously led a Photo Camp on the Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail. “Coming out of this program, they’re able to look at their homes with a different perspective, and see new details and gain new understandings of the world they come out of.”
“I had to pretend like I had never been there before,” said Brittany Cooper, a senior at North Haven Community School. “And that’s hard, because I see this every day of my life.”
The best photographs from the three-day workshop will be featured at the 12th annual Pop!Tech, a conference Oct. 23-25 at the Camden Opera House that brings together some 600 thinkers and leaders in science, technology, social innovation, business, environmentalism, media, education and many other fields for a four-day exploration of ideas shaping the future.
Four students from the program were selected to attend Pop!Tech. Cooper and fellow North Haven student Ashley Hodder and Vinalhaven students Catherine Haley and Kate Hamilton will show their photos and talk about life in Maine’s island communities.
None of the students picked to go to Pop!Tech was familiar with the conference, which is based in Camden, but is simulcast via the Internet in locations all over the world. Featured speakers this year include figures as diverse as Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, journalist and pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, linguistics professor K. David Harrison and human and civil rights activist Van Jones.
“I have no idea what to expect, but I’m really excited,” Hodder said. “I didn’t even know what Pop!Tech was until this week, but it sounds amazing.”
The idea of living in a world of both scarcity and abundance has real-life relevance for residents of Maine’s island communities.
“There’s scarcity, in that we live like this, and not many people do. With lobster prices dropping and gas prices going up, it’s really hard to make a living,” said Hamilton, a senior at Vinalhaven. “But, it’s also kind of an abundance, because we’re really lucky to have such a close-knit community. We’re really lucky to be surrounded by so much beauty. We have sunsets. We are very rich, in that sense.”
The richness and difficulties of life on the islands shone through in the students’ photographs. By the end of the workshop, all were leaps and bounds ahead of where they were just a few days earlier — as photographers and as communicators.
“I like looking at all the different shapes, and thinking about how to put everything in the frame. [Matt and Amy] really made us think about what we were looking at, and what we were trying to say with the pictures,” said Rachael Brown, also a senior at North Haven. “I don’t know if I would pursue photography as a career, but I’ll definitely keep doing it.”