`Essence of Howard County'

Students express their `sense of community' in a photography exhibit at Columbia Art Center

February 25, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

While teams of judges closely examined each photograph at the Columbia Art Center this month, looking for composition, quality and creativity in students' shots of life in Howard County, co-organizer Lisa Silverman, 17, saw a bigger picture.

"We really are a strong community that is diverse," she said. "It was really neat to see such an accurate and sophisticated and creative depiction of our community within one room. The [students'] voices were heard, and their voices were strong and proud."

The exhibit, Portrait of Howard County, will be on display at the art center through March 4. In April, the photographs will be displayed in several county libraries.

Silverman, a junior at Centennial High School, was inspired to organize the exhibit when she saw a presentation on a similar project at a youth leadership conference in 2005. She was at the conference with Connections, a program of the Columbia-based Horizon Foundation that seeks to build stronger ties between the community and its young people.

On the way home, Silverman could not stop talking about the photo project with Meg Mekelburg, the Connections coordinator.

"I thought it would be such a great idea to do something like this in Howard County because we're a great community and we're a very diverse community," Silverman said. "I thought it would be nice to give people who aren't normally students in the limelight ... an opportunity to show and express their viewpoint, as well."

Last year, the Connections program agreed to support Silverman's proposal, and she and Mekelburg formed a committee with other students involved in Connections and representatives from several community organizations and government agencies.

To make sure every high school was represented, the committee, including representatives of the school system, decided to make the project part of the county's academic curriculum. Photography teachers were invited to submit their top entries for the exhibit.

The chosen photos were displayed at the county's Board of Education building from late November through Jan 10.

Silverman said that when she saw all of the photos together at a reception in December, "the only way to describe it was [that] I was in awe. I had to pinch myself that my hard work and the hard work of so many people had finally come together."

School system staff members then narrowed the exhibit to 158 photographs to be displayed at the art center.

There, another element was added as three teams -- consisting of a professional photographer and a photography student from Howard Community College -- each chose several photographs to be recognized with awards.

"Hands down, we knew who our top two were," said Maili Godwin, a portrait photographer from Ellicott City who judged the show with HCC student Jenny Yang. "We were blown away. We couldn't believe it was high school work. The print quality was gorgeous, the composition was gorgeous, they had a sense of community."

Godwin, a Hammond High School graduate, said there were many entries where "it was obvious they were thinking deeper."

The photographs were in color and black and white, made digitally and with film, and arranged alone and in collections. Dancers, athletes, tractors, a country market, a police car, a beauty shop, a pond and many other people and landscapes represented Howard County to the youthful photographers.

"They certainly are thought-provoking," said Richard Krieg, president and chief executive officer of the Horizon Foundation. "You never know what catches someone's eye when they take the picture."

He added: "The fact that we have representatives from all the high schools -- young people coming together around this issue of portraying the essence of Howard County -- is quite significant. It will lead to what this project is called: Connections."

Silverman said she has enjoyed hearing from the students that they felt that their view mattered. "It will be interesting to see what happens to the photographers over time," she said. "Whenever you are recognized for something, it's at least a confidence booster."

Silverman said she also hopes the community will be inspired to recognize the role young people have to play in community life.

"We do matter. We do make a difference. We do care about our community," she said. "It's not just that we're the future, but we're in the now, too."


Portrait of Howard County runs through March 4 at the Columbia Art Center Galleries, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia. Information: 410-730-0075.


High school winners from the exhibit, Portrait of Howard County, at Columbia Art Center, were announced Thursday.

The first-place Gold Award winners, selected by three sets of judges, were:

Ballet by Rachel Stuart, River Hill; Roots Market by Kara Peterson, River Hill; Historic Ellicott City by Judith Li, River Hill; Impervious by Anthony Thomas, Marriots Ridge; In the Park: Columbia by Nate Hathaway, Howard.

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