On-the-job storytelling

Published 9:22 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

A new educational undertaking at Hampden- Sydney College (H-SC) became an opportunity for students to partner with the Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity and make a difference in the community with photography and their hands.

Five H-SC students took a brief summer class that put them in the position of being documentary photographers who also helped on Habitat home builds.

To view more photos of the gallery, click here.

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“Hampden-Sydney is doing a new experiential learning component to our curriculum, so this kind of idea of working on a service project, getting out in the community and doing a project, kind of fell under that umbrella,” said Pam Fox, the H-SC professor of fine arts who taught the class. “And then personally, I teach photography and design, and I’m always interested in projects that get my students to kind of get out of their own preconceived ideas of what a good photograph might be.”

Working with Habitat for Humanity was a natural fit, since the college had already done volunteer work with the organization, Fox noted. She said her students contributed to a Habitat project that has been nicknamed the “Birdhouse Build” because of the involvement of both Prince Edward County High School and Fuqua School, both of which have birds as their mascots.

The H-SC students had access to John and TeOnna Roberston, the homeowners who will be moving into the house when it is complete. The students interviewed them and took portraits of them and their family.

Of the five students taking the class, “one had taken one other photo class, and one had some photo experience, and the rest did not,” Fox said at opening of an exhibit highlighting their work. “So in four-and-a-half weeks, we went from zero to an exhibition, so there was a tremendous amount of after-hours (work). We would meet in the evening, and sometimes we would look at movies of other documentary photographers or just work on our projects.”

Students went to a build, a Habitat home dedication and visited the homes of other Habitat partner families. Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity serves Buckingham, Charlotte Cumberland and Prince Edward counties.

“And we also were able to visit the Moton Museum and sort of make some connections back to the economic status of some folks in the community,” Fox said.

It was Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Coordinator Alanna Rivera who helped the H-SC students broaden the scope of their project to give a picture of not just Habitat but Prince Edward County. As she stood in the Brinkley Hall Gallery on Hampden-Sydney’s campus, she took in the photos Fox and her students chose to highlight. As she and others walked around the room, they read placards of text mixed in with large presentations of the photos hanging on the walls.

“I think they did a great job of pulling it together and kind of telling where we are as a county and the struggles that we’ve been through and how Habitat can be used as a vehicle for change in many areas,” Rivera said, “because at the end of the day, housing affects every aspect of our life pretty directly, so I think they did an amazing job. I’m really happy with it.”

The H-SC students enjoyed the experience they were afforded through the class.

“It felt good to be able to go out in the community and show that Hampden-Sydney is willing to help out and stuff like that,” said Tyler Godwin, who just graduated from H-SC. “So, that was, for me, one of the biggest things that I got out of it.” Godwin was one of the three students in the class with no previous photography education.

“I learned a lot about photography,” he said. “It was real cool — a lot more than just clicking the button, and I didn’t realize that …” Breaking down how his learning experience unfolded, he said, “I would say the first week and a half we spent mainly on the camera, and we did little self portraits of each other to practice with lighting and stuff like that, but the second half, we kind of just rolled with it. … Once we started getting a mass of photos, we started going into Lightroom and Photoshop and learning how to edit properly and stuff like that.”

The photo exhibit, entitled “Home is the Key,” is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m and by appointment at the Brinkley Hall Gallery. “Home is the Key” will run through Sept. 5.