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J. Paul Getty Museum Engages Students in Photography with Community Photoworks

LOS ANGELES, CA.- For Jo Ann Callis, tension is a recurring theme. Her current exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Woman Twirling, explores tension and anxiety in lush images that convey unease.

This spring Callis has been helping a group of high school photographers explore tension in their own photography as part of the Community Photoworks project, initiated in 2005 by the J. Paul Getty Museum and 826LA.

“Community Photoworks is designed to help students build critical looking skills through the medium of photography, and, ultimately, raise their awareness of the conscious choices people make in the creation of visual culture,” says Ami Davis, the Getty Museum’s education specialist for school programs. As part of the program, the Getty provides lesson plans, art supplies, bus transportation, and training for staff and teachers.

Over the course of the project, the students, who were in an 11th-grade U.S. History class at Los Angeles High School in L.A.’s Olympic Park neighborhood, studied photography, both in class and at the Getty Museum. They met with Callis at the Getty Center and spoke with her about her work, which served as the launching point for in-depth discussion about varying facets of tension, from the interpersonal tension of U.S. events to the visual tension in Callis' photography.

“As a longtime teacher at CalArts, this was a wonderful opportunity to work with even younger students to deepen their understanding of art through the vehicle of photography,” says Callis, a Culver City-based photographer who has taught photography at California Institute of the Arts since 1976.

Following a series of workshops, the eleventh-graders used cameras to consider how their own lives are affected by tension. Subjects ranged from street signs to still lifes, open skies to schoolyard scenes. "The Getty project has been an unforgettable experience that inspired me to never under estimate the power of a picture," says Alvaro Escalante, one of the student participants.

"I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work on this project with my students,” says Felicia Perez, a U.S. History teacher at Los Angeles High School. “In a year of such historical significance, from the election of our nation's first African American President to our current economic recession, how could we pass up an opportunity to document the perspective of our youth and learn from such a talented artist as Jo Ann Callis?”

The results of their work will be featured at an exhibition at the Golden State Café on Fairfax Avenue, May 31-June 13, co-sponsored by 826LA, a non-profit writing/tutoring center, dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, which helped the students polish their artist’s statements and is supporting the production of a catalogue of the students’ photography and written work for distribution at the exhibition.

Julius Diaz Panoriñgan, Director of Education for 826LA, adds, “Part of 826LA’s goal of helping students become better writers is to enhance the understanding of writing’s importance to various disciplines. Community Photoworks showcases the relationship between the visual arts, language and writing—so, it’s an ideal forum for students to develop their abilities across all these fields.”

The Getty plans to launch an online exhibition of the student work on the Getty Web site, including the student-produced images and written work, as well as information on the project and links to individual objects in the Getty’s collection.

For now the students are preparing for the exhibition opening on May 31, where they can show their work to friends, family, and photographer Jo Ann Callis, who plans to attend.

Callis adds, “I enjoyed helping the students realize that art can be as wide as the imagination—from literal depictions of events to images that reflect one's inner state of mind. It was incredibly gratifying to help raise their awareness of cultural expressions that enrich our lives.”

J. Paul Getty Museum | Los Angeles | Community Photoworks | CalArts | Getty Center | Olympic Park | Culver City |

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