Lifestyle

Focused on the competition

From Left, Bayview students Felicia Eggland, Sarah Kelso, Shahla Omar, Amy Pfeiffer and Zoe Osenbach had stand-out entries at the Rainier Photography state contest for high school photographers. - Cynthia Woolbright
From Left, Bayview students Felicia Eggland, Sarah Kelso, Shahla Omar, Amy Pfeiffer and Zoe Osenbach had stand-out entries at the Rainier Photography state contest for high school photographers.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Shahla Omar is never going to look at a photograph the same way. The Bayview School junior can’t help but analyze light patterns, composition and angles contained within the images.

Call it an addiction, or call it simply great influence, but Omar and 11 other Bayview photography students have caught the shutter bug.

“I love it,” Bayview sophomore Amy Pfeiffer said. “Photography’s so different from any other form of expression. I like capturing feelings, what’s going on at the time and the emotion of the moment.”

The students’ dedication to the darkroom has now paid off for them, as five of the 10 Bayview students who recently entered the Rainier Photo Washington state photography contest for high school students walked away winners.

Students placing in the contest included Omar, who took second in the landscape division, junior Sarah Kelso who stole second in hand-coloring, Pfeiffer received an honorable mention in animal photography, senior Zoe Osenbach received an honorable mention in still life and Bayview student Felicia Eggland received an honorable mention in landscape/seascape/cityscape.

The Bayview winners are among 39 students who earned placings out of 3,299 entries received. The Bayview placings were enough to give the school an accumulative point total high enough in the competition to lift them to an overall school placing of ninth out of 64 schools.

“Photography has grown to be the highlight of the school’s art program,” said Bayview art teacher Jean Shaw.

The Bayview photography program, along with its 12 students, is still relatively in its infancy. Shaw began the program in the fall of 1999 with the instructor “barely one step ahead of the students,” she said. But when Judi Slepyan walked into Bayview School hoping to exchange volunteer instruction for time in the school’s darkroom, that all changed.

Since Slepyan began work with the students, Bayview photography has become a staple sight — and has received award-winning recognition — at local shows such as Fresh Art hosted by Gaskill/Olson Gallery, Arts and Appetizers hosted by the Whidbey chapter of the American Association for University Women, and off-island shows such as the one hosted by Rainier Photo.

“The public exposure has completely changed the students, their photography and what they view as the quality standards for their work,” Slepyan said.

“We put the gallery work and fine art printing into focus the second part of the year. This evolves the dynamic of work from being possibly pedestrian at the beginning of the year to incredibly creative outstanding pieces for the gallery shows.”

Most of the Bayview photography students — such as Kelso, Omar and Pfeiffer — have only a semester or even a year of photography study under their belts. The program’s success has been all in the instruction, the students say.

“We’ve had a really good teacher,” Osenbach said. “We’ve also been given the opportunity to take photos whenever and wherever, which has really allowed us to find what we feel is beautiful.”

Osenbach is one of the veterans of the bunch, having started taking photography her sophomore year. She looks to attend school in Vancouver, Canada, and study journalism after graduating Bayview High School in June.

Kelso said the award-winning photography coming from Bayview students should be no surprise considering the curriculum and everyday teachings at the alternative school.

“We’re taught to know and understand deep feelings through poetry and art, which allows us to better express ourselves in all aspects of our education including our photography,” she said.

The second place win is a successful nod for Kelso who said she attempted the photography class last year, but it didn’t go as well.

“This year I really got in there and learned all about the camera and the darkroom and it was easier,” she said.

She now looks to some day build her own darkroom at home and continue shooting photos with hopes to display in galleries, along with her sketch work.

“She’s an amazing sketch artist,” Pfeiffer said.

All of the Bayview photography students’ successes have been possible despite the odds, according to the students who say the Bayview darkroom is not exactly a photographer’s dream studio.

The darkroom, which was once a storage closest, is crowded with slightly battered equipment acquired through “beg or borrow.”

“We’ve been really lucky for what we have,” Shaw said. “We’ve also been lucky to accomplish what we have in our darkroom.”

A photography fee of $35 in the beginning of the year barely covers each student for chemicals and paper for the year and starts them with a ration of six rolls of film. The program has two loner cameras.

Bayview students are used to their darkroom’s rag tag look: a single working enlarger that they must raise by hand, two enlargers out of commission, just enough paper to scrape by, and chemicals that are stretched to their abilities.

“We get by with a dodging tool made from a lens cap duct tapped to a stick,” Osenbach said with a laugh.

The perseverance could all be in the instructor’s optimistic influence of the “magic” of a darkroom.

“When people are working in the darkroom they say stuff they wouldn’t say in the light,” Slepyan said. “It could be related to the pictures they’re developing, it could be related to how they felt about the image or even just life in general.”

As much fun as it is to go out and shoot the portraits she so enjoys, it’s all the darkroom time to which Omar looks forward.

“I love watching the image come up in the developer and being able to manipulate how it will come out,” she said. “There’s definitely something magic about that.”

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