Weekly Feature



2017-04-26 / Front Page

Familiar faces

Art exhibit captures essence of school district
by ETHAN POWERS
Editor


Anna Haefener, a Clarence High Senior and photographer, looks upon the work of her and her classmates, displayed in the “Faces of Clarence” exhibit in the art bays of Clarence High School. 
Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Anna Haefener, a Clarence High Senior and photographer, looks upon the work of her and her classmates, displayed in the “Faces of Clarence” exhibit in the art bays of Clarence High School. Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The qualities of a school district are almost invariably measured by a series of statistics, often manifested as test scores, which attribute a numerical value to its student population. The numbers may represent academic rigor or perhaps the makeup of the scholars.

But what’s often missing is the human component — the characters and personalities that bond to create the distinctive essence of each school.

Clarence High School art teachers George Gilham and Kerri Graf have given their students the tools and the opportunity to encapsulate this very facet through a new art installation titled “Faces of Clarence,” which will be unveiled tonight from 6:30 to 8 in the art bays of the high school.

The exhibit features more than 100 student portraits suspended from the ceiling and encased in glass, as they display an array of expressions and emotions that showcase the variety inherent within the district. The project was made possible through a grant from the Clarence Schools Enrichment Foundation.

“We wanted to bring together the idea of getting a snapshot or a window into Clarence, what the schools are and can be,” said Gilham, who teaches a sculpture art class at the high school.

Gilham’s sculpture students collaborated with Graf’s advanced photography students in creating the extensive collage. The idea first came about as Gilham and Graf discussed potential projects that could create synergy between their classes.

The result ultimately became an initiative to document the distinguishing personalities of the district. Students from the high school art classes traveled to each elementary school as well as Clarence Middle, where approximately 25 students from each school representing every grade level were photographed for the project. The student photographers also snapped portraits of their classmates at the high school.

Prior to working with students at earlier grade levels, the photographers would interview the students in order to get an understanding of their hobbies and interests.

“When we were working with the elementary kids, it’s very important to try and capture personalities. We didn’t want them to look like a school photo,” Gilham said. “We wanted to try and draw emotions out of the kids so that they would come out of their shell so that their own personality would shine through.”

Anna Haefener, a senior at Clarence High School and a student in the advanced photography class, took a leadership role with the project in getting it organized and ready for display.

“Before this, the people I would take photos of were often people I was friends with. It’s a whole different ball game when it’s people you don’t know,” she said.

Haefener photographed students at Sheridan Hill Elementary, including two special needs students, which she says required her to think outside the box as a photographer. She employed questions she thought would relate to kids in order to break their timidity, such as “What was it like when you scored your first goal in soccer?” and “What does your favorite animal sound like?”

The photographs were taken in December, after which the real work began. The original prints of the photos had to be transferred into Plexiglas displays. The displays were then installed by the sculpture class, with students building armatures for support, and hung from the ceiling at different heights using translucent fishing wire. The final result is a series of images that look as if they’re being viewed through floating windows.

“When we first started this, I didn’t really think that it was going to be the amount of work it ended up being,” Haefener said. “Taking the photos was only a one-day thing. After that, we put hours and hours of work into doing the transfers and getting everything installed.”

Haefener, who will study photography next year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, learned as much about herself as an artist as she did about the characters that form the idiosyncratic identity of the Clarence Central School District.

“The kids were a little nervous and quiet in the beginning,” she said. “But it was interesting in trying to draw emotions out of them, to try and get a reaction from them to better understand who they were.”

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