BRATTLEBORO — Giving young people a chance to see the world through a different lens for 30 years, In-Sight Photography Project now hosts its first annual Youth Photo Contest & Fair.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, some 31 young artists from Brattleboro and across the region - including Bennington; Greenfield, Massachusetts; and Keene, New Hampshire - will be celebrated at the Latchis Theatre for their 89 submissions to the contest.
Every year, In-Sight Executive Director Emily Wagner notes, the organization has benefited from a fall fundraiser. This year, though, marks the first youth-centered event with youth art.
According to Wagner, from 4 to 7 p.m. that day, all teens' submitted work can be seen on the walls of the Latchis' main theater; there'll be food, balloon art, face painting, photo games, a photo booth (think old-timey selfie), and even a film-roll-loading contest honoring the old, predigital days of film photography.
A 6 p.m. awards ceremony will name three winners in each of these categories: analog film, artistic, people, places, and the New England experience.
Submissions to the youth contest were welcomed from youth ages 11–18 living within an hour's drive of Brattleboro. Three prizes will be awarded in each category, with a grand prize of a DSLR camera kit.
The public is invited to vote for a contest participant to win a People's Choice Award.
While most photography contests demand an entrance fee, this event was free to submitters, thanks to the generosity of a growing list of individuals and businesses.
Cathy Cone, a photographer and painter and co-founder of Cone Editions Press whose works are in the collections of IBM, Hallmark Fine Art Collections, and American Express, among others, is the event's honorary chair.
A longtime supporter of In-Sight and its students, she says in a media release that the contest represents "an opportunity for the community to encourage and help guide a young photographer's dreams."
A space for teens to learn
In-Sight was conceived in 1992 by Bill Ledger and John Willis, to be offered at the former Brattleboro Teen Center as a means of giving young people a chance to engage in self-expression through the medium of photography.
In 2003, In-Sight found its own home at 45 Flat St., before moving to its current Main Street space in 2018.
There, one finds a classroom, a digital lab, an analog darkroom with nine enlargers, and a small space for small works which is fondly called the Tiny Gallery.
In the reception area, sun pours through skylights to warm cozy gathering nooks.
Hundreds of young people have benefitted from In-Sight's programs over the years. Its programming has offered a range of workshops and classes taught by the area's leading photographers.
In addition, as noted on insight-photography.org, the Exposures Cross Cultural Program "brought youth from different cultures together to the current Teen Photo Team (TPT)," which it described as "a program specifically designed to help youth explore professional pathways."
In-Sight's approach to photography is "to foster personal expression, artistic growth, and self-confidence" with the mission "to create opportunities for youth to learn and use the photographic arts as a technical and expressive medium fostering personal development and cultural engagement."
"In our vision, all youth have equitable access to opportunities to express their creativity in the photographic arts in a learning environment and curriculum that supports the diversity of individuals, communities, and cultures," the organization writes. "The programming includes core classes in analog film and digital photography, after school partnership programs, the Photo Team, and an artist residency."
In-Sight student Matrix Balsley-Petraska, 13, says, "Something that I really love about TPT is how comfortable and relaxed it is. Rachel [Boettcher, operations and program manager] helps keep us on task without being controlling and it's really lovely. We're all just having fun learning together and taking pictures."
Genevieve Taggart, 15, adds: "In-Sight has let me explore my creativity; they have become my second family. In-Sight gets me out into the community to shoot real events; they have given me opportunities of a lifetime."
Lynn Barrett of PrimeTime Concepts, a consultant for In-Sight, praises what the nonprofit offers "to the community and to the young people in Brattleboro - giving them skills and confidence to grow in a positive direction...and we certainly need that these days!"
Wagner, who took the helm at In-Sight in 2022, grew up in South Carolina and attended Marlboro College, where she studied visual arts and psychology. An artist and arts administrator, she has worked with various nonprofit programs and in public and private schools.
She believes strongly in the role of the arts in education.
"The arts had a big impact on me as a young person," she said. Having had a very traditional education in her youth through which she "really struggled," she "found Marlboro and alternative education to be really interesting, so that is where I've spent a lot of my study." Eventually, she earned a master's degree and licensure in art education.
Lamenting the fact that the Windham Regional Career Center has dropped its filmmaking program, Wagner told of seeing a television commercial on Vermont Public promoting career education in the state and, she observed, "there were a lot of cameras in that commercial. A lot of kids standing behind tripods with cameras on them."
According to the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation and Vermont Department of Labor's study (mcclurevt.org/most-promising-jobs) of promising jobs, Wagner adds, "photography is an up-and-coming career choice."
In-Sight's fall 2023 programs include: 35mm Film: Darkroom Experiments & Beyond; Digital Photography 202: Working in Genres; and Photographic Storytelling: Creating Series & Narratives. All classes are fully accessible through a sliding-scale fee structure, and all equipment is provided.
Wagner says In-Sight's funds "are raised through sponsorships and a generous anonymous donation. We wanted to see if [the Youth Photo Contest and Fair] is something youth would respond to and have an impact. Next year, we will be better able to solicit sponsorships big and small with data on the positive results of this first run of the event."
Cone, and In-Sight's board of directors vice-chair and local photographer Rachel Portesi, assembled the jury panel.
In addition to Cone, the contest jury panel is comprised of Michael Kirchoff, editor-in-chief at Analog Forever Magazine; Vaune Trachtman, a photographer and printmaker whose images explore the evanescence of dreams and memory; Aline Smithson, founder and editor-in-chief of Lenscratch.com, a daily online journal on photography; Crista Dix, executive director at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts, with 15 years' experience in operating her own photography gallery; and Joan O'Beirne, photographer and teacher at Greenfield Community College.
Photographer Geoffrey Peckham, founder and executive director of Tusen Takk Foundation, is on the jury as well, joined by Dale Rio, co-founder of The Halide Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit whose mission is to support film and historic process photography; Jon Gitelson, a professor of art at Keene State College, who works in a variety of media: photography, artist books, video, installation, and public art; and Timothy Trelease, an artist-educator who has been exhibiting and teaching visual art for 30 years.
For more information on the Sept. 30 event and offerings of In-Sight, visit insight-photography.org.
Disclosure: Mentioned in this story is Lynn Barrett, a member of the board of directors of Vermont Independent Media, the nonprofit organization that publishes The Commons. By long-standing policy, board members do not participate in the newspaper's editorial process.
This The Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.