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