BRATTLEBORO — For the last several weeks, students selected from around the country have gathered in Brattleboro to learn more about photography, photographers' professional lives — and each other and themselves. In the Exposures program, sponsored by In-Sight Photography, 18 students from eight states have lived on the Austine School campus and engaged in a whirlwind of learning activities.
"We've talked with a bunch of people who are artists, associated with In-Sight or who John might know," said Isabel Rudner, of Brooklyn. "They've showed us their art and let us do different activities."
"We've also gone to museums," said Lane Young Man Afraid of His Horses, who lives in South Dakota. "Yesterday we went to Boston, to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts."
"We've also done a ropes course," added Alma Miranda, who lives in Los Angeles. "And we went camping."
While the Exposures program is in its fifth year, this is the first time that it has been held in Vermont, and the landscape was a shock to some participants.
"It's very different," Young Man Afraid of His Horses commented. "In South Dakota everything is small hills and out in the open. I can see the horizon. Here it's just mountains and a lot of trees, so it was a little overwhelming at first.
"I fell asleep on the drive here, and woke up and saw trees everywhere, and said, 'Where are we?'" he went on.
"It's different from L.A. because we have a lot of buildings, and here there are a lot of trees," said Miranda. "I really like it because you get to know nature."
Overnight camping was a new experience.
"At night, we saw all the stars," she said.
She was also struck by all the one-family houses.
"I live in an apartment, and when I saw the big houses, I said, 'Oh my God, they're huge!'" she said.
Lucy Congleton, who lives in Brattleboro, is seeing the town and Vermont through the eyes of others who are visiting for the first time.
"I've heard people talking about how the roads are so wind-y that they made them carsick, so I started thinking about it," she commented. "I've never noticed before. When I go downtown, I know that I might see someone that I know, so I kind of think about that. I also think about the places I've grown up with, all around me, and how they've affected my life."
While the program is centered around photography, the varied activities brought the participants together in new ways. For example, Young Man Afraid of His Horses said his favorite event was the ropes course.
"It put everything into a fun area, and made everybody more outgoing," he commented.
Rudner noted how the participants communicated on some unexpected topics.
"Early in the program we went to an interfaith church, the Guilford Community Church, and I'm not religious, so I didn't expect to like it, but the conversations we had were really interesting," she said. "I never thought about religion like that before. And in general when we have discussion about religion or race or culture, I think it's really interesting."
"My favorite thing was talking to everyone about how our lives are different, and talking to everyone about the different cultures that we all have," she said. "When we were camping we had a bonfire, and I stayed up talking with people and telling scary stories, and that was bonding because it was people I hadn't been talking to a lot."
The program challenged the students to go beyond their comfort zones. The relentless pace of activities was a challenge for Rudner.
"We've been bouncing from activity to activity every day, and there's so much that they want us to do and experience that we're out of the house by nine at the latest and we get back between 6 and 10," she said. "There's not a lot of time for slowing down."
The theme of this year's program was diversity, and students developed projects around that theme.
"We're encouraged to talk to strangers, to interview them about something having to do with our projects," explained Young Man Afraid of His Horses.
For Miranda, whose first language is Spanish, interviewing strangers in English could be challenging.
"Sometimes I'm scared to do an interview," she said. "I'm worried that they might not understand what I'm saying."
Congleton and Young Man Afraid of His Horses both commented on how much they have learned about photography.
"I've definitely learned some new things, especially printing with film, and I want to keep practicing that sort of thing, and not just do digital," said Congleton.
"I don't own my own camera, but I'm saving up for one," said Young Man Afraid of His Horses. "I've learned a lot."
All four students said that along with stronger photography skills, they have gained an interest in open communication — with people they already know, and others.
"I think it'll be weird to go back to the city and have everyone be closed off again, because here, pretty much from the start, everyone was super open and super willing to share," Rudner said.
"I guess you get into the habit of being more open with people when you go back," Young Man Afraid of His Horses commented. "You want to keep that — to start going out and being more involved with others."
"We've all kind of become a family," said Congleton. "At this point we've gotten to know each other pretty well, so there's a lot of bonds that weren't there on the first day."
The participants in the Exposures program invite the public to a potluck supper and exhibit of their work this Friday, July 15, at 5 p.m. in the dining room of the Vermont Hall, on the new Winston Prouty campus at the former Austine School. Please RSVP for the community potluck supper by calling 802-251-9960 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com.