I was recently asked to speak to a group of eighth grade students at DECA Middle School. I began by telling the students a little bit about myself and how I got started in photography, about my many sources of inspirations and how photography feeds my soul. I explained to them how my camera often serves as my voice, how it allows me to express how I’m feeling even when I can’t find the words to do so.
Now eighth graders are hard to read… the room was pretty quiet as I was talking so I didn’t know if they were bored out of their minds or simply a well behaved class! When I wrapped up my introduction Mr. Rodriguez opened the floor for questions and I was impressed and inspired by some of the questions that the students asked.
During my introduction I mentioned some of the challenges of learning photography along with some of the mistakes and blunders I had made along the way. This led to one of the students asking “if it was so hard what kept you from quitting?” I explained that I don’t know how to quit, how I enjoy the art/process and challenge of learning something new. That’s something I always knew about myself but never expressed out loud or really gave much thought.
Another student asked if I chose photography to express myself because I was shy or quiet. That caused me to pause because I am somewhat of an introvert and very selective in who I REALLY talk to. Then I went on to explain to the class “and myself that what really drew me into photography was the ability to show people exactly how I feel. How sometimes you have a conversation with someone and you can’t quite find the right words to express exactly what’s on your mind or how you are feeling. Well photography allows me to show them.
One student asked at least five or six questions. I found out afterwards that he’s always quiet and rarely speaks in front of the class. He asked a question that stomped me and one that I had never asked myself before: “what is the most important picture that you have ever taken?” and he clarified, “not the most popular, not your favorite but the most important.” I still haven’t figured out the answer to his question but I promised him I would get back to him with one.
The day finished with a few random questions and me telling the students that no matter what their interest or calling is – there’s inspiration all around them. I suggested that they look into Gordon Parks work and start taking pictures “even if it’s just with their phones,” find their own voice and to get out and just express themselves. One of the female students who earlier asked if I’d be taking their school pictures raised her hand and told me she didn’t know a lot of photographers by name but wanted to make sure that I knew that I was her favorite! We got together for a group picture and a few selfies and I left the school inspired and very impressed with the students!