Photographer brings out creative side of students

El Roble Intermediate School students looking for an after-school hangout have found refuge in the play yard of the Claremont Presbyterian Children’s Center. For the past few years, the local church has offered a venue for the students, regardless of congregational membership.

“It’s mostly about community building,” said Reverend Rocky Supinger. “It’s a place where they can just come hang out in a stress-free environment.”

A new collaboration between the church and renowned photographer Ramak Fazel seeks to give the program a new edge while continuing to forge community ties. Dubbed the Claremont Creatives, the program offers students the opportunity to participate in workshops geared toward providing professional skill sets. The inaugural workshop, which kicked off the first week of October, pairs the junior high kids with Mr. Fazel to learn the basics of professional camerawork.

Mr. Fazel and Mr. Supinger hope their workshop provides a launching point for more artistic endeavors to come, providing the students with a sense of purpose.

“I’m convinced that youth are eager to do meaningful work,” Mr. Supinger said. “They are really energized about producing something of their own.”

Every Wednesday, Mr. Fazel takes a break from his own photography career to share tricks of the trade with the El Roble students, something he relishes. It was Mr. Fazel who approached the reverend last summer with the idea for creating a workshop.

Mr. Supinger was eager for the opportunity to give the after-school club students experience with a professional photographer like Mr. Fazel, whose work has been featured in the New York Times and Domus Magazine, an art and architecture publication based in Italy, to which Mr. Fazel is a regular contributer. The partnership provided mutual benefit for Mr. Fazel, who was interested in mentoring youth. Having taught workshops at the college level, Mr. Fazel was particularly interested in helping a younger generation at a pivotal point in their lives.

“Junior high kids are just exiting that adolescent stage and entering into young adulthood,” Mr. Fazel said, noting that the teenage years often spur an interest in future pursuits like photography and other creative ventures.

Mr. Fazel developed his own interest in photography as a youth from observing his father and quickly took it up as a personal hobby. He enjoyed the way it allowed him to engage as an observer in things he couldn’t necessarily participate in. While photography continued as a passion, it wasn’t until receiving his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue that he realized it could also be a profession. He went on to study photography and graphic design in New York City before receiving a master’s degree in photography from CalArts.

“In New York, I saw photographic works that opened my eyes,” Mr. Fazel said. He hopes to provide that same eye-opening experience to Claremont youth.

While teaching them the basics of photography—having the students take portraits of the preschoolers—Mr. Fazel also looks to impart other important skills, like thoughtfulness and patience. He does so by having the budding photographers work with film cameras, rendering them unable to see the instant results they are so used to in this hyper-digital world, he says.

“It forces them to make choices,” he said. “I want to work on developing their vision and teaching them to be patient. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Though only their second class, the students were already applying these skills, engaging each other in discussion about how to engage their preschool subjects.

“If you want them to look or turn their head, you have to point something out that doesn’t exist, and they will look for it,” said 7th grader Franchesca Ho, sharing a tip. Franchesca and fellow 7th graders Capri Castellanos and Clara Becker agree that working with other kids and coming up with creative choices for their pictures is half the fun of their new hobby.

While used to working with a digital camera at home, El Roble 8th grader Joey Calagna says he is enjoying the change of pace.

“My digital camera is not as good as one of these,” he said of the Rolleiflex camera Mr. Fazel has them use.

Another concept Mr. Fazel hopes to instill is the important role of commerce. At the end of the program, the students’ portraits will be framed, matted and available for parents to purchase during the center’s holiday celebration. Mr. Fazel finds the most effective teaching is going beyond the creative process itself, helping them to showcase their work.

“That’s the way to get your students to take it seriously,” he said.

Mr. Fazel and Mr. Supinger hope photography is just the beginning for their program. They chose the name Claremont Creatives with the hope that it would provide room for different projects to come, whether an actors workshop or cooking class.

“It’s providing them with the foundation that might take them in the direction of further artistic expression,” Mr. Supinger said. “They are learning by doing.”

—Beth Hartnett


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