Photographer Valerie Justice, 23, wears many hats. By day, she's a photo assistant for a commercial studio. By night, she writes and snaps photos for her adventurous blog kodakkerouacs.com with photographer Mary Miller.
Early next year, she will start raising grant money for an upcoming Americana-themed photo road trip. While project fondly remembers the old, Valerie also nurtures the new. She teaches a 10-week photography class at Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church to middle-school students who may not otherwise receive an art education. (Answers have been edited.)
Q: What is it like to teach photography to middle-schoolers?
It's a lot of fun. Most of these kids have never seen a film camera before, they've never used a film camera so I introduce them to film and then some alternative forms of printing that go back as far as the 19th century. We get to play around with a lot of really interesting aspects of photography that they wouldn't normally encounter. We all have Holga cameras, which are toy plastic cameras. We load them up with medium format film and they go out and take pictures. They really seem to enjoy it.
Q: Tell me about one of their projects.
We just made a camera obscura. It's something that artists and painters use so they can paint an image of something outside or inside very simply. The one that we've made is with a pinhole so we black out all windows. You have a lens that was made out of cardboard and it projects everything outside onto our classroom wall, but upside down.
Q: Why is it important for kids to learn photography?
In getting kids engaged in art, photography is a gateway. It's really great for kids to get a hold of because they already speak in terms of pictures. They look to magazines, they watch TV, they're getting exposed to all these pictures all the time. So, they already kind of know what makes a good picture and what makes a bad picture because they say it. They say it all the time.
A lot of the kids who come into the program think, "Oh gosh, this isn't cool." Then they kind of get their hands on it and they think, "Oh wow, this is actually really fun." I think that they get a lot more confidence in themselves.
Q: How do you keep students inspired?
I try to get the kids focused in on their community, taking pictures of things that they really connect with. I have a student who likes to take pictures of her family. I get tons of pictures of her little brother and I can just feel that warmth that she gets. I've got another kid who loves cars and he's just got the raw excitement over a vehicle.
Q: What have you learned from this experience?
They give me a different perspective. ... More people have things kind of figured out. These are kids who are figuring everything out. Everything is very new to them: Friends, having romantic relationships, they're learning bigger concepts. Every day they seem to be inspired by something new. I think that's very refreshing.