Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Insight Photography Project


Photo © David Kennedy • www.davidmichaelkennedy.com

I recently joined the board of InSight Photography Project based here in Brattleboro, Vermont. It’s mission: “to provide local youth with a creative outlet away from school to develop a  visual language that will provide them tools to communicate with others while discovering something about themselves.”

Why did I join the board? Well, I keep telling myself that I want to do things, concrete things, for the community I live in. So, when this presented itself I had to pony up or start shutting up.

Okay, so why photography of all things?

Well, I remember a very long time ago in the 80s when I was in Junior High School in a town smaller than the small town I now call home, a teacher had a fledgling after school photography project. He gathered together some used cameras and made a dark room of an unused cleaning closet at the school. We bought some very cheap film and proceeded to take bizarre and, for my part, bizarrely awful photos. I was horrible at it. I didn’t get the f-stop thing at all. Focusing was a challenge because the camera I inherited wouldn’t adjust. I simply couldn’t get things in focus or out of focus the way I wanted. I tied my first two ribbons of film into knots trying to load the developer canister thing. I opened my first pack of paper outside to check it out. I tried printing to the wrong side of the paper. I was a disaster. But I couldn’t quit…

Old school photo development processing trumps any sort of digital magic you ever hope to tease me with. It involves strange poisonous chemicals, light machines, a room lit red, and hours of fiddling. They had me at the chemicals.

I finally got some film developed by my 4th roll and I actually made my own photo. I think it was a picture of a trashcan, a dog, and someone’s broken crucifix shot through a chain link fence. The teacher was mystified – no people, no trees, no friends, just stray bits of disposable California through a wire barrier. “They’ll never run in it the paper, Dan,” was his review. I didn’t care. I’d made my own picture capturing a moment in time that would never be news, but would never slip away quite like all my other moments either.

Fast forward to my first year of college and my first (and last) formal(ish) photography class in the UC Davis Art Department. I borrowed a roommate’s camera with a faulty lens housing that leaked light across all but the most gingerly held shots (again with the f-stop problems) and proceeded to make art! All the technical stuff was secondary. The teacher would tell us about it if we begged, but what he wanted was something creative that communicated something personal visually.


Photo ©1998 by Elijah Gowin • www.elijahgowin.com Snake Legs, 15˝x15˝ • Image courtesy of artist and Robert Mann Gallery

One student mounted postage size prints on standard size matte board. All the shots were of long, wide views she saw on her drives through the central valley. Brilliant.

Another student delivered smears of human action all below the knee and all outside of a sports context. The athleticism of everyday life. We were enthralled.

I made shots of the kind of people and things I always wanted to write about. The stuff most fiction and stories pretends never happens. Street musicians that are simply too normal to stop for. Boxes of dull library pencils. Stacks of game pieces that lost their game.

I knew I wouldn’t go on with visual art, but I did learn some things about myself. I learned to trust my whims and distrust my attempts to legitimize them. I learned that what we see is in a big way a reflection of what we are. So, I moved on to theatre (Greek for ‘the seeing place’).

Insight Photography helps kids in Brattleboro not only see their own world better but to become aware of the way they see that world. The project should be three times as big and every town should have one.

Visit the Vermont Center of Photography in person or the auction web site and help someone learn to see their world another way!

The Skinny

Vermont Center for Photography

49 Flat Street | Brattleboro, Vermont
Oct. 2 through Nov. 1, 2009
Gallery Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 1-6:00 pm; Fri. 2–7:00 pm; Sat. and Sun., 12:00-5:00 pm

Closing Reception: Sunday, November 1, 3:00-6:00 pm

View prints and bid online at: www.auction.insight-photography.org