Teenage Scenes

Written by Gabrielle Alfiero on . Posted in Arts Our Town, Arts Our Town Downtown, Arts West Side Spirit.


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Photo submission from 14-year-old Tiara, who took shots of her cousins as well as self-portraits and still-life photos.

Photography contest encourages students to shoot photos — without a cell phone

The Instagram hashtag #nyc has more than 21.5 million posts and features a range of subjects, from the Statue of Liberty to street buskers to piping hot bowls of ramen, all designed for tagging, liking and social media sharing.

But a local business is encouraging teenagers to put down their phones and pick up cameras to capture scenes of the city. H and B Digital, a photography shop on West 46th Street near the Diamond District, recently launched “City Through Your Eyes,” a city-wide student photography contest. Open for entries through September 30, the contest urges students ages 14-21 to submit work representing life in New York.

Thus far, the contest has received about 70 submissions, but John Morabito, marketing director for H and B Digital, anticipates an influx of entries come September, once students are back at work on school art projects.

Young photographers lean toward familiar subject matter, Morabito said; portraits of friends, still lives and street photography from neighborhood blocks aren’t uncommon, though he thinks teenagers are capable of pushing beyond the usual.

“I’d always see an elderly person or an older person, or someone from a completely different walk of life that I would never talk to otherwise,” Morabito said about his early days as a photographer, when shooting the unfamiliar was a challenge. “I’d really like to see some of those photos where we can instantly tell where the photographer had to have stepped outside of their comfort zone to take this photo.”

For McDonald Layne, a former photography professor at York College in Jamaica, Queens, encouraging his students creatively means getting them away from their myriad devices and screens; he even discourages relying on the monitors on the backs of digital cameras. The contest requires that all submissions be shot on a camera (even a disposable one), printed on photo paper and mailed or delivered to the shop.

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“Photography and the arts in general can be utterly transformative for kids.” John Morabito, marketing director at H and B Digital

Photo: Tiara

“I try to get them from in front of the television screen,” said Layne from H and B Digital’s stock room, an organized series of shelves stacked with boxes of digital cameras, lenses and headphones. “Everything is digital. Nobody actually knows how to pick up a pen and paper and write or draw. They don’t do that anymore. Everything is tap, tap, tap. So it’s important for me to teach children to actually take their hands and their minds and do stuff on paper.”

One of Layne’s students has already entered the contest, a 14-year-old named Tiara, whom he taught at Shorehaven Community Center in the Bronx. She captured self-portraits, a black-and-white scene of her young cousins playing at the beach and a still life of her Converse sneakers. Layne taught her about cropping, digital effects in Photoshop and working with manual camera settings, and even helped her set up an art show at Savoy Bakery on 110th Street in East Harlem, where she was taken aback when patrons asked her about her work.

“She’s like, ‘What am I supposed to say?’” Layne said.

Not all public school students in the city have a mentor like Layne; nearly 30 percent of the city’s public schools are without a full-time arts teacher. Without a course requirement and an instructor’s guidance, Morabito said he may not have picked up a camera.

“In high school I had to take an art class,” Morabito said. “And all the cool kids who I hung out with took photography.” But he got hooked on the art form and spent all his free time in his school’s darkroom developing prints, and went on to study photography in college.

The student work will be critiqued by a panel of expert judges, including Luiz C. Ribeiro, a former staff photographer and photo editor for the New York Post. The top three contestants will win a DSLR camera, which Canon donated to the competition.

Morabito hopes that the contest will expose the participants to the possibilities of an artistic career or pastime. The winners of the DSLR cameras could book professional event photography jobs with that level of equipment, Morabito and McDonald said, and the contest’s organizers have already scheduled an exhibition of the submitted work for late October in Brooklyn, with 10 more venues interested in showing the prints.

“Photography and the arts in general can be utterly transformative for kids,” Morabito said. “Not to be too lofty about this—I don’t know if participating in one photo contest is going to have that transformative effect on them—but you never know, and if it does, that’s awesome. If it plays a part in that overall life-long transformative scheme then I’d be really happy about it.”

For more information and to download an entry form, visit http://www.handbdigital.com/info/City_Through_Your_Eyes

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