‘In-Sight’ gives Brattleboro youth creative outlet

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(Host) For many young people the search for a creative outlet is an important part of growing up. In Brattleboro, a nonprofit organization called “In-Sight” supplies young people with the skills and equipment to express themselves through photography.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) In a snowy field near Route 30 in Townshend, there’s an old snub-nosed fire truck with a rusted grill and dull red paint. Eleventh grader Elise Huston noticed it from the road on a class outing last week. Now she’s back to capture it with her camera.

(Sound of camera shutter, click, wind. Footsteps; click, wind.) Huston aims her lens at the truck’s open window. The angled spokes of the side view mirror frame the shot. (Sound of shutter clicking.) Next she crouches down at eye level with the front wheel.

(Huston) “Some of the paint’s peeling and there’s dust and dried bugs inside of it. So it shows how long it’s either been here, or sitting somewhere.”

(Keese) Since middle school, Huston has been working with In-Sight. It’s a program that teaches the art and science of photography to young people 11 to 18. She’s learned to use a camera, develop film and print her own pictures. Her work has been in several In-Sight exhibits. Now she volunteers as a darkroom monitor at the program’s Brattleboro headquarters.

Marlboro College photography professor John Willis helped found In-Sight in 1992. He and Bill Ledger, another photographer, had been watching teens congregating in Brattleboro repeatedly dispersed by shop owners and police.

(Willis) “Our intention was always to try and help kids who needed something to do. And basically we related to that as all kids. It’s also to give them an opportunity to discover what it is they’re interested in, in the world. So they can use photography as a way to research things and learn about and think about and experience things around them. It also gives them a voice. They can use photography to communicate to other people.”

(Keese) Willis and Ledger started raising money for a one-time summer class. They ended up with a year-round program.

(Willis) “We found a lot of community support from counselors and politicians and the police department – all kinds of people towards the idea.

(Keese) By summer the group had access to a permanent space in an old nightclub that was being converted into a teen center. They had cameras to lend and enough donated equipment to build a darkroom. A few years later the space next door became a skateboard park. In-Sight’s board of directors is looking for a larger, quieter location. But the students don’t seem bothered by the noise.

(Student) “So now I pour this in?”
(Cullen Schneider) “Yup, you sure do.”

(Keese) In-Sight offers classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced photographers. Grants and donations keep the costs for classes low, and no one is excluded for lack of funds. The classes are taught by local photographers, including Willis’ college students and In-Sight alumni. Cullen Schneider, a Marlboro college photography major, is teaching a beginner’s class. She says it’s a valuable experience.

(Schneider) “I learn as much from the process as these guys do, I’m sure. What I like about In-Sight is, they’re willing to recognize the importance of that.”

(Keese) Early on, responding to criticism that photography was a hobby only the well-off could afford, In-Sight launched its yearly incentive class. Students in these classes must have perfect attendance and produce a body of work that makes a statement. Most agree to help teach as well. Participants who meet the requirements earn their own 35-millimeter cameras.

Nineteen-year-old Brent Smith earned his camera that way. Smith was on his own, holding down a job and struggling to finish high school when he became involved with In-Sight a few years ago. Now, for the first time in his life, he’s thinking of applying to college:

(Smith) “I didn’t have any specific interests that I thought were strong enough or that I felt comfortable enough devoting my energy until In-Sight. I think it’s given me a path, or at least the option to take that path.”

(Keese) In-Sight has also taught classes for teenage mothers and in a youth psychiatric facility. The program also has an exchange with students in a youth photography program in the South Bronx.

Last year In-Sight participants helped set up a darkroom on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. They’re hoping to return there this spring to teach more classes.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

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