Students at Venice Arts take their ‘time capsule’ photos from local classroom to international stage

By Michael Aushenker
Last fall, Venice Arts instructor Issa Sharp told her nine teenage students that the goal of her 22-week class was to create documentary stories in their schools. The idea went over like a lead balloon.

“Some of the students did not feel comfortable photographing at school,” Sharp said, “so we changed the class theme to ‘a time capsule for their future selves.’”

This thematic revision gave students freedom to shoot a diversity of subjects they felt emotionally invested in. What emerged was imagery in which the teenagers dabbled in portraiture, captured abstract subjects and conveyed genuine emotion.

Work by students in Venice Arts’ Advanced Photography program have also been invited to display their work this week at the International Los Angeles Photographic Art Exhibition (also known as Photo L.A.), where it will be showcased alongside that of established artists.

The Art Mentoring & Education Program at the nonprofit Venice Arts began with just a handful of teens and donated basement space in 1993 and has since inspired creativity among thousands of kids from low-income families.

In the fall, Sharp’s students learned to print and produce portfolios. In the spring, the teens will spend five more weeks of intense shooting before creating their final project — a handmade hardcover book.

“We also spend time critiquing work and looking at a lot of historic and contemporary photography,” Sharp said. “Since we are such a small group and we have a few talented volunteer mentors, we can work individually with students, giving them one-on-one feedback and helping them to grow and push their styles and skills.”

Carter R. Irwin, a Santa Monica High School student, is taking the craft seriously.

“It’s my creative outlet,” said Irwin, 16. “I’m pursuing it as a profession, and I won’t rest until that goal has been met.”

Irwin’s photos in the exhibit include landscapes of decayed man-made structures in a desert setting that he shot during a family road trip to Arizona.

Messing around with makeup led 16-year-old Da Vinci Science High School student Jazmin Gutierrez to snap her untitled black-and-white image for the exhibit: a bizarre shot incorporating a shopping cart. The photo was taken, naturally, a few days before Halloween.

While Gutierrez doesn’t expect to pursue a career in photography, the work is nonetheless important to her.

“It is something to help me get away from all the schoolwork that seems to become harder and harder every day,” she said.

Photo L.A. takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday at L.A. Mart, 1933 Broadway, downtown Los Angeles. Admission is $15 to $20. For more information, visit§