John Wessel Photography Program Annual Exhibition

December 4, 2021 – January 8, 2022

This year’s John Wessel Photo Class had a lot going against it. While the world was starting to come back into focus, kids still weren’t able to be vaccinated. Part of teaching photography is using cameras, which are tactile hands-on devices. I’d been vaccinated back in April, and I’d even traveled back east in June. Still, as the class was set to begin, the Delta variant of Covid-19 was wreaking havoc. Our partner in the program at Harbor Village had undergone two administrative changes since the last class in 2019. Everything was out of sorts.

At first we had three students. Then two. It was the smallest class I’d undertaken as a teaching artist. With two kids, you’re pulling a lot of class out of thin air, because there’s not the built-in communal knowledge share that happens with five or six or eight kids in a workshop. By the end of the first class, it was apparent, this was a special outing, not just because of the pandemic. These kids were naturals. And if we had to bend the class to the will of the pandemic, it wasn’t going to make it worse. If anything it made it better.

Our two students, sisters Fairouz and Bushra, took home cameras after each class and developed a familiarity across several different digital camera operating systems. In the beginning of class, we would look at photo books from my collection, and use favorite images from those books as a leaping off point. We began to develop a language that expressed what was contained within those images and what the students wished to capture with their own photographs. Then, we’d walk around Harbor Village for an hour, trying out different cameras, different processes of photography and sharing those with each other. It was a remarkable experience. We practiced photographing movement, light, and candid portraits all while getting to know one another. By the end of the class, the students were conversing about art and photography with confidence and humor, care and obligation. It was an inspiration to witness. 

Some years, the Wessel photographers we teach are better as individual photographers, some years they’re just a fun group to be a part of regardless of the images we’re making, and some years it’s the photos that unite us throughout the lessons. Though we were a super small outfit this go-round, this edition of the John Wessel Photography Class was an awesome combination of all those things.

Henry Cherry,
Teaching Artist

Established by Judy Herman in memory of her husband, the John Wessel Photography Program is designed to provide a creative outlet to low-income youth with the hope of sparking a lifelong passion for photography. The five-week instruction takes place at the Family Resource Center at Harbor Village Apartments in Harbor City in partnership with Project Access, a non-profit dedicated to giving low-income families the tools to break the cycle of poverty.

Photographs by Bushra

Photographs by Fairouz