Bridgeport students are now focusing on photography via arts collaborative

Photographer Rebecca Kiger of Wheeling talks to Bridgeport students about the craft.

BRIDGEPORT — Art students at Bridgeport High School are focusing on photography in a new venture with the Rural Arts Collaborative.

The RAC, as it is known, pairs teaching artists with students as part of an arts education project funded through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and offered locally through the Stifel Fine Arts Center.

Since its inception in 2012, the RAC has been involved in schools throughout the Tri-State Area including Burgettstown and Fort Cherry High Schools in Washington County, Pa.; Weir High School, Brooke Middle School, Triadelphia High School, Paden City High School and Wheeling Country Day School in West Virginia; and Bellaire and Bridgeport High Schools in Ohio.

According to the RAC website, the premise is to recruit teaching artists to work within local school districts with the intent to infuse a diverse arts education approach into existing curriculum, enhance social and cognitive learning and contribute to sustained partnerships amongst educators, artists and students in the region, particularly in schools which experienced cutbacks or complete elimination of their arts programs.

About 22 students in grades 8-12 have been learning new aspects of the artform from Wheeling-based documentary photographer Rebecca Kiger since last fall. Kiger has visited teacher Mindy Sears’ classroom at least once a week and introduced youth to different forms of photography to build their creativity with the camera. Some equipment was also provided to the classes as part of the program.

“Stifel contacted me in 2018 about becoming an artist-in-residence,” she said. “They are the local partner of the RAC. The photography project in Bridgeport is focused on portraiture. Our goal is to paste portrait murals on the bridge columns of Ohio 7 where Wheeling Island and Bridgeport intersect.”

For now, students are getting acquainted with the equipment and gaining an understanding of light and composition. Kiger also instills influences of renowned photographers and uses their ideas to craft intriguing pictures in the classroom. One of the most recent assignments captured American artist Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” concept to show interaction between random people. Names were drawn for the photographers and models and students worked with light diffusers and honed their knowledge of aperture and shutter speed to take their portraits.

Kiger’s time as an artist-in-residence at Bellaire High School helped those students gain recognition with their original “zine,” titled “The All-American Town.” The self-published work of images was reviewed by the Washington Post. It also led to Hollywood actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland purchasing copies. Additionally, her skills were recognized among Time Magazine’s 100 Top Photos for 2019. She has worked in photography and education for most of her life after obtaining degrees in photography, education and anti-racism work from Hampshire College. She also holds a second degree in Spanish and Latin American studies and said most of her work has taken her outside the Ohio Valley.

She has enjoyed her time with the students at Bridgeport and said there was plenty of untapped potential.

“It is a privilege to spend a year with Mindy and the photography students at Bridgeport High School. It is a small community and has been very welcoming,” she added. “The students have great attitudes, and I am excited to see what they produce as they become more proficient with the new cameras we bought for the school program.”

Sears said it has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience for her students.

“[Stifel] came to us and asked us to be part of it,” she said. “She has been here at least once a week and does a different focus each time. She is ultimately trying to guide the students to come up with ideas on their own. The students are really excited and we are very lucky to have her here.”

A few of the pupils echoed those sentiments.

“It’s been really interesting to learn about this stuff,” said freshman Brayden Green. “I basically knew nothing about pictures and it’s really interesting experience to know about lights and angles.”

“The program is definitely a great learning opportunity,” added sophomore Kayla Nowakowski. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are blessed to take part in this project. I have had challenges but it’s been cool to learn the art form.”

“I feel like the photography program has brought us all together,” noted junior Danielle Duffo. “We all talk more now and are interacting with each other.”

Meanwhile, Sears noted that the student-led project should be unveiled in the community this May.

“It’s a great gift to get a working artist in our classroom. She has teaching experience that inspires students and gets them thinking,” Sears said.


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