BRATTLEBORO -- Sally Fletcher, a 14-year-old student in the In-Sight Photography Project's Intro to Black-and-White class, says more than she realizes when she exclaims, "I never had a way to develop, and I've always just wanted to."
In a narrow, literal sense, she was referring only to the roll of black-and-white film she had just taken out of a camera during class last Monday evening with Tim Callahan at In-Sight's facility at 45 Flat St. There, she and five other teens were getting a crash course in the tricky manual skills needed to get a roll of film out of a camera and out of its canister, onto a reel and into a tank of developing solution -- all steps they eventually need to be able to do in total darkness. Within an hour or so, Callahan had guided the students through the steps and into the darkroom to try their hands at developing their first rolls of film.
"What's interesting for me is the great ‘Aha' moments in the darkroom," said Callahan, who grew up in Brattleboro and took photography classes in high school here before moving away. Photography remained a passion, and when he returned to town after many years, he discovered In-Sight and has now been teaching there for seven years. "Mostly, it's just fun."
It's more than that. For two decades, the In-Sight Photography Project has made "developing" -- in all its meanings -- its mission. As a non-profit organization that offers photography classes to area youth
"It all kind of melts away here. You go in the darkroom, and everyone's the same," said Callahan.
"For me, it's more about the person than it is about nurturing the photographer. A lot of kids come here to learn about themselves," said Stephen Dybas, who came to Brattleboro 4-1 2 years ago to become director of In-Sight. "We're here to try and help kids make good choices about their lives."
This is a big year for In-Sight, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the summer Bill Ledger and John Willis put together a one-month photography class for the local teens they saw just hanging out with nothing to do. Since then, In-Sight has evolved into a year-round program which has served more than 1,500 participants, including some 250 this year.
Earlier this year, In-Sight received word that it was one of 50 programs nationwide nominated for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the country's highest honor for out-of-school programs for young people. In-Sight was just the second program in Vermont ever to be nominated. Although In-Sight wasn't selected as the winner, the nomination was frosting on the cake of the 20th anniversary year.
"We're extremely proud of it. To be noticed for our programming and our giving back to the community is a great honor," Dybas said.
October is another milestone in In-Sight's big year. The 14th Annual Photography Exhibition and Silent Auction is in its home stretch, but there's still time for people to bid on work by nationally known and local photographers. In all more than 250 prints and 10 fine art books are featured, including work by well-known photographers such as Duane Michals, Fred Cray, Emmet Gowin, Jim Dow, Larry Fink and Laura McPhee, as well as local artists Christine
"The photographic community is really quite wonderful and amazing in their support of In-Sight," said Dybas. "It's our largest fundraiser. It can end up being a quarter of our budget."
Count Cathy and Jon Cone among those in the photographic community who continually step up to help In-Sight. They are the owners of Cone Editions, a groundbreaking fine art digital printmaking company in the tiny Vermont town of East Topsham.
"Art is a transformative experience. We really appreciate the fact that there is this venue for young people to go and have these tools and have that environment that nurtures that part of them that is so vital," said Cathy Cone.
View the exhibition in person at the Vermont Center for Photography, 49 Flat St., which is open weekdays from 1 to 6 p.m., and weekends from noon to 5 p.m. Secure bids can also be placed online at auction.insight-photography.org. The auction will close this Sunday, Oct. 28, with a gathering at Vermont Center for Photography from 3 to 6 p.m., during which final bids can be placed.
Proceeds generated from auction sales benefit In-Sight participants through the Scholarship Fund. In 2011, 93 percent of all In-Sight students received some scholarship support.
Those funds enable those "Aha" moments Callahan appreciates so much, and all the other ways In-Sight influences the lives of young people in the community.
"It's very important to me," said Brian Guerino, a 16-year-old student at Brattleboro Union High School, and In-Sight. "It lets me speak my mind."
In-Sight's fall slate of classes got under way Oct. 8 and includes Intro to Black and White, Intermediate and Advanced Photography, Digital Photography and Web Design, and Stop Motion Animation. It also includes In-Sight's signature program, Exposures, a cross-cultural youth exchange program which involves shared photo projects with youth from Chicago, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Dine Reservation in Arizona. Projects focus on themes of place, identity, and culture. Youth who participate in this program have an opportunity to apply for the Summer Program held in a host community.
Mesa Kennedy, a 16-year-old student at BUHS, was one of three students from Vermont, who joined students from Chicago's Street-Level Youth Media program and from Arizona for three life-changing weeks at Pine Ridge last July. There, the students, their adult facilitators and people on the reservation shared meals, took portraits of people and photographs of the landscape, went camping in the Badlands and witnessed powwows and Native American celebratory and ritual gatherings.
"It's a really amazing experience to go into somebody else's culture and try it on for a while," said Kennedy. "The photography was a way for us all to connect with the community."
Closer to home, In-Sight has connected with the community here through collaborations with area organizations and social service programs, including the Brattleboro Retreat, Making the Most of I, the Women's Crisis Center (now Women's Freedom Center), Northeast Family Institute, Youth & Family Services and more.
And it continues to create new initiatives to meet changing needs. When staff realized that not everyone who wanted to take classes could travel to Brattleboro to take them, In-Sight created its Digital Mobile Lab to bring its classes to them.
"The thing I'm proudest of is our ability to continually adapt and reach out to community needs," said Dybas.
And one of those needs, even in this digital age, is the chance to shoot a roll of good old-fashioned black-and-white film and develop it and print the photographs in a darkroom. Of all In-Sight's offerings, Intro to Black and White remains extremely popular, Dybas said.
"No one really does it anymore," said 15-year-old Intro to Black-and-White student Abby Thomas. "It's kind of cool to be doing this."
For more information, visit www.insight-photography.org.