A photo of one of the young artists utilizing the point and shoot cameras gifted to them by APP. (Belén Marco Crespo)

APP’s ‘Being a Teen Ain’t Easy’ Photo Exhibition to Open December 8

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Throughout the summer of 2017, the Athens Photo Project (APP) held their first intensive, 10-week youth photography and storytelling workshop. APP is a non-profit organization committed to utilizing art to encourage self-expression by those living with psychological illness, and has historically only been able to provide such workshops for the adult population of the region. This year the group was granted the funds necessary for a youth camp, and Belén Marco Crespo, a graduate assistant for APP, jumped on the opportunity to facilitate it.

“This was really a storytelling workshop, and we had to start it very much focusing on learning what stories are, that all stories are important,” said Crespo, who is currently enrolled in the Master’s on Visual Communication program at Ohio University. She also holds Master’s degree in Communication and Development, and a Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Certificate from Ohio University. “The Athens Photo Project tries to foster self-expression through photography, with photography as a way to reflect on things, to perhaps see them from another perspective. The workshop was about the art we made, but also about the making of the meaning behind it, about reflecting on our lives in a very deep way.”

The workshop was made up of 12 young artists, split into two groups that met twice a week. At the beginning of the workshop each teenager was given a point and shoot camera, and at every meeting of the group, the teens would learn about various technical aspects of photography, and be given various homework assignments to complete with the cameras at home. The artists also wrote extensively about their photographs and the experiences behind them, and even learned how to utilize doodling to express their thoughts and ideas. Once a week, Crespo would print out the student’s photographs for group discussion.

On Friday, December 8, APP will unveil the exhibition resulting from the photos that were taken by the teens over the summer, entitled Being a Teen Ain’t Easy. The opening reception will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and the photos will be on display, free of charge, Dec. 8 through Dec. 15 at the APP headquarters located at 434 West Union Street in Athens, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“To begin with, I have social anxiety, so the workshop was very scary at the beginning,” said Olivia Spratlin, one of the artists who took part in the project, as well as a ninth-grade student at Athens High School. “At first, I was counting down the days to the end of it. But towards the end, I started to think ‘oh no! It’s only this many days until it’s over! That’s terrible!’ It was a really great experience, and I’m really glad I got to experience it.”

Spratlin’s photos are strikingly personal, with many self-portraits depicting her oscillating moods.

Olivia Spratlin was one of the young artists who took part in the APP’s summer youth photography workshop, and she took many interesting self portraits, such as this one, throughout her time involved. (Olivia Spratlin)

“Let’s just say this, at first, almost none of them wanted to be there,” said Crespo. “For most of them, this is something that they were forced them to do, so they weren’t very excited. It was very complicated at first, getting to know each other.”

Kaily Sanborn, 16, is another artist who took part in the program. She’s also an academic senior at Alexander High School who is taking classes at Hocking College with the hopes of someday being a forensic pathologist.

“I’m not much of a social person, so I really hated it at first,” Said Sanborn of the workshop. “But then, I started talking a little bit more, and I actually found out that I’m a fairly funny person – or that’s what everyone said, at least. It took me a while to warm up to the whole thing.”

Sanborn wrote profusely throughout the project, and took many photos in nature, in places throughout the wilderness that are significant to her. Many of her photos are deeply self-reflective. One that is featured in the final exhibition features a view down an alley of skinny pine trees, with white light flooding the enclave. In the photo, Sanborn is holding up another image taken of the same path.

A photo taken by young artist Kaily Sanborn. She said that many of the images she captured this summer during the youth photography workshop facilitated by APP allowed her to revisit some things in her past that she needed to make amends with. (Kaily Sanborn)

“Some people, like me, just had like 20 photos each week. Others had like 200,” said Sanborn. “Taking photos made me focus more on my life, and sometimes that was really depressing. But everyone had a very distinct photography style. Some people took a lot of photos of their family, I took a lot of photos of nature and my weiner dog named Pickle.”

Crespo emphasized that the workshop was a deeply moving experience for everyone involved.

“It was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. It was both very intense and very dramatic at times, but other times, completely chill. We laughed, we cried, it feels like we’ve done everything. More than the photography itself, I think that the workshop was about learning from each other and exchanging experiences,” said Crespo. “I learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. It was great to see them sharing these highly personal moments that are completely individual with each other, with people that they didn’t know at first. They were afraid to, at first, but by the end, a lot of them just wanted to stick around and talk.”

In particular, Sanborn said that the workshop allowed her to grasp integral social skills that she had been missing out on before.

“I’ve been a fairly insensitive person my whole life, and when I met emotional over here [gestures to Spratlin], who is super sensitive, it was really weird for me,” said Sanborn. “I was always mad at her for having feelings, and that was a big lesson for me because before this I hadn’t ever socialized too much, so I hadn’t dealt with situations where other people have emotions.”

Spratlin, who aspires to be a psychologist focusing on working with teenagers, echoed Sanborn’s expression of the importance of the experience

“The workshop was… really something. It really changed my life in several ways, and it showed me different people’s lives and views on life,” she said. “It showed me that life really isn’t the worst.”