Over two weeks in June, nearly 30 children ages 10 to 15 walked around Harrisburg with digital cameras, taking pictures of everything from their own reflections in rain puddles to bees resting on flowers.
The two Harrisburg Outreach Photography Camps were a collaborative effort between the Morris Museum of Art and the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, and they accomplished several goals. First, campers learned to use digital cameras and how to compose photographs. But they also learned about the history of the area, and they documented the neighborhood as it is right now for posterity.
Children don’t have preconceived opinions of the neighborhood the way an adult might, explained Michelle Shulte, the curator of education at the Morris Museum of Art.
“We’re able to take them in there and see what they see,” she said. “They find interest in things that we drive by every day and don’t pay much attention to.”
The museum will store all of the nearly 12,000 images taken by the campers, and have put at least two from each camper on display in its Education Gallery.
Local photographer Michael Johnson taught the camps. He started each week with an orientation at the Tubman Education Center to get the campers acquainted with the cameras.
“We just did kind of a lecture, then went out in the yard and did some things,” Johnson said.
Corey Johnson, a historian with the Laney Museum, gave campers a history of the Harrisburg neighborhood.
For two days, the students went on a 2-mile walk through the neighborhood, mainly down Eve Street and Crawford Avenue, snapping photos of anything they found interesting.
As they did, they learned how to compose a photograph and how to use camera settings.
“It was good to see students take an out of focus picture, and then realize they needed to change the mode and then fix it,” Johnson said. “As the week progressed I saw a lot of that.”
Campers experimented with shadows, reflections, and depth. A few played with the composition by holding up their fingers in such a way that a distant building seemed to be held between them.
This is the second year the camps were held. Last year, similar camps were held in the Laney-Walker Bethlehem district.
“Last year we had well over 10,000 images,” Schulte said. “It’s a lot of images, but there were some amazing shots these kids took.”
The cameras, Nikon CoolPix, were loaned to the program by retired photographer Frank Christian, who received the cameras through his relationship with Nikon, Johnson said.
“We are left with a really rich grouping of pictures,” said Matt Porter, assistant director of education for The Morris. He facilitated the program, and through the week brought water and snacks to the campers while they walked.
“It’s been really interesting because they’re always excited to use the camera,” he said. “I’ve been surprised by how much they are interested in learning about the neighborhoods. I think they also just enjoy being around other students that are learning with them.”
The campers’ work is on display at the Morris through Aug. 4. Along with their photographs are portraits of each camper and a short autobiography. Each child received a disc with their work and printouts of their images.
A celebration will be held from 2-4 p.m. Aug. 4 for the campers and their families, and will be open to the public.