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Youth photo workshop focuses on success

In the darkness of the room, lighted mostly by a photograph projected on the wall, the discussion revolved around concepts such as reflection, personality, negative space and placement.

"It didn't turn out like I wanted it to," said Lulu Anderson, 14. "The house was supposed to be blue."

There had been the typical youthful chatter and activities prior to the critiques before the lights dimmed. But once the slide show began, creativity became the focus.

"I just like taking pictures," Gus Anderson, 13, said later. "I've learned about abstract and contrast and lines."

Inside that room, which is inside the Seventh Street Center/Kid's Café, young people who have been deemed at-risk of falling through the cracks, were transformed into young people at risk of finding a reason to succeed.

I had entered Our World in Pictures, a program established this summer by the husband and wife team of Jeff and Christina Gora, wedding photographers with a love of their craft and a desire to serve.

They combined their passions and created OWIP, which held two four-week workshops this summer at the center. Each class met twice a week for 90 minutes with as many as a dozen students. Professional photographers from the Lexington Herald-Leader, and photography students from the University of Kentucky served as mentors.

"We weren't really sure what to expect," Jeff Gora said. "Some of them had done some photography in the past and some hadn't."

Young people up to 10th grade were given simple cameras that soon proved to be inefficient. They then were given better equipment similar to what their mentors used. The transition was a smooth one, as they took lessons taught in the classroom and applied them to their photography, all the while having fun.

"They treated everything with respect," Christina Gora said. "They were so gentle with our cameras. They took it seriously. I was blown away by their respect."

"By the end, we weren't worried about them misusing the cameras," Jeff Gora said. "It encouraged them to ask more questions about things they weren't used to."

For the Goras, the program was a way to mentor. "Photography is just a way to get to that mentoring," she said. "We need to build up our young people. There is a lot of potential there that nobody can see. They can work with technology and make a difference in their lives. That is huge."

The mentors, with whom the young people bonded, pointed out the different fields in which photography is used and stressed how important it is to stay in school. They used photography, what the young people had grown to love, as a tool to open their eyes to the larger world of possibilities and opportunities.

"I could have walked away and never come back," said Ebony Benton, 14. "But I like photography. I want to take fashion classes."

And that's what the Goras want to see. Discovering they had unlocked good photographers was gravy.

"We didn't expect them to produce the quality of pictures they did and use the high-level cameras," Jeff Gora said.

He hopes to put similar classes in other local centers throughout the area, training volunteers at each location. Eventually he wants to open programs overseas as well, to bridge the culture gap. He's already had inquiries from Costa Rica.

That's the future, down the road when funding is secured. Right now, he's seeking enough support to leave cameras in the hands of each child who completes the class.

To get the word out, various photographs taken by the youth will be on display during the Gallery Hop on Sept. 18. On Nov. 20, OWIP will have an exhibit in the second floor lobby of the Downtown Arts Center, 141 East Main St., at which some of the young photographers and mentors will be on-hand to discuss their experiences.

"I've learned things don't always turn out the way you think it will," Lulu said. "You have to take more than one picture. Since I took this workshop I see things differently."

More of our young people, the ones being dismissed because of their financial station in life, should be thinking like that.

Visit www.ourworldinpictures.com/e7center/ for a glimpse of OWIP.

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