UMass Lowell photography project focuses teens on jobs

08/02/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By SUSAN McMAHON
Sun Staff

LOWELL As they look at police officers, factory workers, printing-press operators through the frame of a lens, a few questions should be tunneling throughout their minds:

How does the light work? Where does the shadow fall? Are they in focus?

Such is the life of a student photographer.

A group of teenagers from the United Teen Equality Center assumed that role recently, working as photographers with subjects in various work settings for a slate of workshops at UMass Lowell.

Adult members of local unions are also taking part in the workshop, which last week hosted professional photographer Earl Dotter. His photography highlighting the dignity and challenge of work is currently on exhibit at the Boott Mills Museum.

"It's trying to help people to think about taking pictures of work in a different way," said Susan Winning, one of the project coordinators. "There's lots of different ways you can tell a story about work."

The project was conceived as a collaboration between the UMass Lowell Labor Extension Program, Mogan Cultural Center, United Teen Equality Center, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council. The idea: to bring together young workers and older, unionized workers to collaborate on local photography projects.

The "worker-photographers" will document the life of employees in their workplace and explore their experiences in a variety of careers.

Winning is working on scheduling several opportunities for the students to photograph work, such as a ride-along with local police officers or a tour of Malden Mills in Lawrence.

During the recent workshop with Dotter, the students giggled and blushed when they were asked why they want to be photographers. They talked about light and shadow, detail and depth. And then they shared pictures.

For the students, it's an opportunity to have their eyes opened to the workplace while honing their photography skills.

"When I was 8 years old, I just started taking pictures," said 15-year-old Moises Baez, a participant in the workshop. "I wanted to learn how to be a photographer."

The photographs taken by the students at the workshop will be displayed in an exhibit at the Mogan Cultural Center later this year.

"It's just about the satisfaction in producing something and exhibiting something that is seen as valued," Winning said. "It's really showing regular workers in respectful ways."

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .