What this year looked like through the lens of Kansas high school photography students

June 1, 2021 3:33 am

Though this image was created for a specific project in Digital Photography 1, sophomore Jessica Fitzgerald’s reflection in the broken mirror emanates a feeling of frustration even when photographing a self-portrait, says Topeka West High School digital photography teacher Jason Berryman. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Jason Berryman teaches digital photography and chairs the art department at Topeka West High School. He shares student work on the Photosynthesis blog.

To say the least, this school year in the teaching profession has been challenging. I believe many teachers would agree with that assessment, especially when working with remote students. From a perspective of teaching the arts, how to get supplies to students? How do students submit a jewelry assignment via Google Classroom? How to teach a lesson on Illustrator when students are working on Chromebooks?

Luckily, digital photography worked out easier for my students because most have access to a digital camera on their cell phones. But teaching remotely, and then in person (with only half a class in the morning and the other half in the afternoon), then remotely again, then completing the school year with most of the student body in person and a smaller number remotely — much of the details about photography have either been gleaned over or not covered.

Though the overall quality of student photography dipped a little, what drastically increased was students’ understanding of what they can (or cannot) accomplish with the camera on their cell phones and a few free photo-editing applications.

American photographer Chase Jarvis stated it best: “The best camera is the one that you have with you!”

Two portraits by Topeka West juniors Austin Schimmel and Lily Salazar precisely capture the daily life that we all have been living for over a year: masks! I can honestly say that in all my years of teaching I’ve never had students submit photos where half of the model’s face is covered by a cloth mask.

“Kick,” a photograph by Topeka West High School junior Austin Schimmel. (Submitted)

“Tallulah,” a photograph by Topeka West High School junior Lily Salazar. (Submitted)

Still life images of clothes hanging in a closet and a softly lit potted plant were both created at home by senior Ella Teter and junior Nolan Noonan. These images are notable for their skill, composition, and the fact that both were captured with cell phone cameras while students were working remotely away from the high school.

“Repetition,” by Topeka West High School senior Ella Teter. (Submitted)

“Desklamp,” by Topeka West High School senior Nolan Noonan. (Submitted)

Lastly, I absolutely had to show off senior Taylor Reinert’s “Tiny Planet” image just for the fact that it is so cool. Taylor created the photograph by flying his unmanned aerial vehicle over the west edge of the Topeka West campus. He then captured a 360˚ panorama of the landscape using his cell phone (that he uses to also to control the UAV) camera. Lastly, using Adobe Photoshop, Tayler bent the panorama into a circle creating the tiny planet.

“Tiny Planet,” by Topeka West High School senior Taylor Reinert. (Submitted)

Every year, pandemic or not, I am always amazed by our students’ talent and creativity.

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Jason Berryman
Jason Berryman

Jason Berryman is a graduate of Washburn University and teaches digital photography at Topeka West High School. He is the chair of the art department and serves as secondary liaison for the career and technical education (CTE ) program. He is in his 26th year of teaching and plans to retire from the same school where he was given the opportunity for his first job teaching.