by Georgia Norton/Lion Staff
A blonde woman stands alone in front of Ponce City Market, mid-stride in her casual denims and a light green top. She is spotted again in the High Museum, now dressed in an elegant silver gown that glitters like molten diamond, her hand daintily shielding her long-lashed blue eyes. The picture of grace, she mimics an acclaimed marble statue which stands behind her, however her own face is just as famous as the art.
Her name is Eliza, and the photographs are not from People magazine. They are instead part of an original photo series taken by Lovett’s own Sophia Yan, part of her most recent Photo II project.
“One [of our current projects] is a photo series of six cohesive pictures of any theme we are passionate about. For my series, I took my mom, who was visiting me from California during fall break, to some fun places in Atlanta with my model.” Who was the world-famous model? Eliza, her Barbie doll...
Sophia is one of many students thriving in a photography course with Karey Walter at Lovett.
“Photo II is one of my favorite classes at Lovett, I can literally talk about it all day,” said Sophia. The passionate junior is in her second year of Photo, and she hopes to pursue the third.
Photo is offered in three different levels, all of which require students to experiment with and learn about film photography. Although a digital photography course is offered, Photo is in far higher demand, and the multi-year course has continued to gain popularity in the Upper School each year.
It begins in Photo I, where students are given an introduction to the course by learning the basics of film photography and how it differs from digital, a style that has become incredibly accessible in recent times. Photo I highlights the importance of film photography and teaches about the process, rather than solely focussing on the outcome that many are all-too-concerned about these days.
Henry Sharp, a Photo I student learning about analog photography, says that “one of the main differences between film and digital [photography] is that you can't see how the pictures turned out after you take them. There's a suspense with [developing your own film] because even when you know that it was a great picture, you have to wait and develop it before you get to see it.”
So far, he says that they’ve learned how to use a film camera and develop the photos, and from there, how to turn the resulting negatives into prints.
He also acknowledges that “it’s a lot of fun, even though it’s something I’ve never done before,” and he hopes to continue the program all the way through Photo III.
As the course progresses into Photo II, students are given more freedom to choose their own projects and photograph their interests while still learning about and improving their photography skills.
“It’s a super hands-on class, and [Ms. Walter] gives us so much more freedom to decide on our projects compared to in Photo I,” said Sophia Yan. She had no shortage of praise for the class.
In addition to her series with Eliza, she and the other students are working on an alternative printing process called cyanotype. “In the project, we are not only taking the photos but also participating in processing them,” she explained to me about the historical process in which the print’s colors are inverted and then developed in the sunlight. “The project has given me an intimate relationships with my works.”
In one of her cyanotypes, we see a figure in an outfit of intricate patterns, pointed shoulders, and long sleeves. The seemingly-ancient attire is given no context against a blank background. A crown of blue gems sits high on their head, both as regal and as strange as the rest. The bottom of the image is blurred and out of focus along with the figure’s facial features, adding to the confusion of the image, yet the intriguing clothing stands out in sharp focus.
The image is tinted blue and white and almost looks like watercolors, but it was createddone instead with sunlight during the painfully-precise cyanotyping process.
The final course is Photo III, the most advanced level of the class. It is a selective class of only nine seniors. The third year of the class allows for more personalized instruction due to the smaller class size. “We all get along really well and get to know each other because of the smaller size. We all challenge each other,” says Mimi Norton.
Mimi likes that the class is self-directed. “For example, we can usually borrow any of [Ms. Walters] cameras because she trusts us, or order any type of film we’d like. That’s a lot of fun. [Ms. Walter] doesn’t baby us, we’re responsible for ourselves and our projects, and I feel like that has really helped me to grow in this class.”
For example, Mimi recently ventured to west Atlanta with a medium format camera, a difficult camera to shoot with which was unlike anything she’d worked with before. “I think the photos that I took show that I’ve grown as a photographer because being able to work cameras like that is really difficult. I don’t think I could have worked with anything like it last year.”
She showed me a photo of a dilapidated barbeque outside of an old gas station. The red-painted letters are cracked and fading, contrasting with the saturated blue sky. The dust-layered window to a serving counter is wedged shut and suggests that the restaurant has been out of use for quite a while.
Suzanne Hollis is another student taking advantage of this freedom in Photo III, as she is currently pursuing a project on water and sustainability. “I have always loved nature and so I knew it was a topic I wanted to pursue in this project,” she said. “Shooting with film, I had the ability to take long exposure photos. This can have a cool effect on the water because as the water moves it appears as a stream while everything around it is still so sharp.”
The two seniors value the need to be intentional with film, unlike with digital where you can take as many photos as you want. “While I take fewer photos when I shoot with film, I end up liking my prints more than my digital photographs. The multiple-day process of creating a print is so much more rewarding,” says Suzanne.
Mimi has enjoyed the class so much she is even thinking about pursuing photojournalism in college.
For many of the students I spoke with, the Photo experience has become one of the best of their lives. From Barbie dolls to river streams, the photos leave plenty of room for creativity, and each student’s own style and personality are revealed through the deeply-personal process.