‘Through the Eyes of our Youth’

Photovoice exhibit on display at Marquette Arts and Culture Center

Althea Schalow, a sixth-grader at Bothwell Middle School, stands by her photo, “Diversity and Products,” which is on display at the exhibit “ Through the Eyes of our Youth,” that runs through Dec. 5 at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. Other local students’ photos are on display as well as part of the Marquette Photovoice Project. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — What does the local community look like from the eyes of a teen? It depends on the teen, of course, but a sampling of young viewpoints is on display at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center.

Running through Dec. 5 at the MACC, located in the lower level of the Peter White Public Library, is the exhibit “Through the Eyes of our Youth.”

This fall, several teens and one pre-teen from Marquette and Alger counties shared their perspectives on the community — what makes it great and what could improve — through their cameras as part of the Marquette Photovoice Project.

Photovoice is a participatory action research method that uses photography as a medium to explore community assets, issues and opportunities for change. The project was facilitated by staff from the Michigan State University Extension office in Marquette County and local photographer Lali Khalid.

“It’s a way for people to share their perspective on a variety of different issues,” said Brian Wibby, an educator with MSU Extension, at the exhibit’s opening reception Monday. “In this case, we’re focused on youth and community, but it’s a process that’s been used with adults as well.”

The youths’ photos at the MACC exhibit range from images of the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, with all its colorful produce, to snowy images of one young photographer’s Skandia farm.

Wibby said they first met as a group, having a dialogue about things they like about the community and things they believe could be better.

“They were tasked with going out and trying to capture some images that reflect that and communicate what they’re trying to say with the community,” Wibby said.

Who knows how those images could be a catalyst for change.

Invitations have been sent to the Marquette City Commission and the Marquette County Board of Commissioners, he said.

“We’re hoping to get them in here so that they can see their work,” Wibby said.

The project has dual purposes: getting youth involved in photography and having them learn to express themselves.

“It’s supposed to be a balance of both, and it’s kind of interesting with this process,” Wibby said.

Going into the project, he thought half the pictures would be things they really liked and half would be things they saw as challenges.

In a way, the positive outweighed the negative.

“The body of work that they produced is more about what they saw as positive things in our community,” Wibby said.

Each photo comes with a caption, or artist’s statement, about the image, giving the viewer a better understanding of the photographer’s thoughts.

“Amidst The Falling Snow” by Guinevere Himes, a home-schooled student from Skandia, shows her calf enjoying the sun shining on her side.

It’s a visually stunning photo made more appealing by the snow on the ground, tree branches and fence.

In her caption, Himes said she saw the only cow “content on where she is,” because the others decided that the next pen over was too good to be true.

“Cows are, in a way, kind of like children,” she wrote. “If you give a child the choice between broccoli or pizza, the child most likely will choose pizza.” Cows, given the choice between everyday hay or pea shoots, most likely will choose the pea shoots, she said.

“You can kind of see, like, the things that they really like about their community that they want to preserve,” Wibby said.

Althea Schalow, a sixth-grader at Bothwell Middle School, was involved in the project.

Her mother is a photographer, so she wanted to get more involved in the activity.

“I wanted to, like, tell about the community and about the farmers market and the condos in front of the lake, and how important that is to the community,” Schalow said.

Another important character to her — and the subject of one of her photos — is Phil Niemisto, who can be seen washing downtown business windows and tending the pocket park along Washington Street, which is named after him. There now is a life-sized statue of Niemisto at the park.

“I think he’s like passionate about it, and if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish it,” Schalow said.

Schalow’s favorite photo of hers is “Diversity and Products,” which shows the variety of items available at the Farmers Market in October.

It also shows people looking over the items.

“Their faces — they’re just so lit up,” Schalow said. “They happy about it.”

She wants to keep taking photos, but with a particular focus, literally and figuratively speaking.

“I want to be a sunset or sunrise photographer, because my bus, it always goes along Lakeshore Boulevard,” Schalow said.

That gives her a unique look at the varying colors seen when the sun rises in the morning.

Guinevere Himes said she learned about participants’ points of view during the project, during which they learned a lot about cameras.

Some focused on groups of people in Marquette — how they gather together and talk, like at Farmers Market, Himes said.

“Some people focus on nature,” she said. “So, it’s kind of different to see what people think is most important.”

Charlotte Himes, who attends Superior Central School and is Guinevere’s sister, had photos in the exhibit as well.

She wrote in her statement: “I am hoping to connect with people and help them to see the beautiful nature that is right in downtown Marquette.”

Sierra Bentii, a junior at Marquette Senior High School, displayed a photo of someone texting while driving. However, she got into taking Farmers Market photos too.

“The Farmers Market is a hub of community life and a highlight of my weekend,” Bentii wrote.

For more information on the Photovoice exhibit, call 906-228-0472 or email arts-culture@marquettemi.gov.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.