Kansas high schoolers use digital photography to express their voices

June 9, 2022 4:01 am

Senior Emily Locke created this self-portrait for the Obscure Self-Portrait project in Digital Photography 2. The goal was to tell about yourself, but not show yourself. (Emily Locke)

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. Josh Davis is a graduate of Washburn University. He teaches digital photography at Topeka High School and is the chair of the art department.

High school students this year are extraordinary. The past two years have been rough on them physically and mentally, and they have lost and endured more than they should have.

During this time as their digital photography teacher, I saw my students not bend under current events, but to take what was happening and use it to create not only beautiful and breathtaking photographs, but also images that were thought-provoking and truly expressive of themselves and the world.

Whether it’s Photo 1 students learning the basics of how to operate a camera, or Photo 2 students learning how to push their creative limits in a semester filled with choices, one component remains the same. I emphasize that the camera is a way for you to express yourself. It is a way for you to show the world how you view it, a way to give a voice to the voiceless.

At the end of the day, I ask them, what are you trying to say with your photograph?

These deeper questions have led students who have lived through trying times to use digital photography with an artistic maturity that has taken my breath away. Students have covered a variety of touching topics. Some dealt with changing one’s perspective for a better view, self-portraits, female empowerment, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Most importantly, what I see in their photography is hope. Hope for a better future, a future that they themselves can create. 

Senior DayShauna Wiley took this portrait of these young ladies to show that Black women empower each other and are there to lift each other up. The outtakes of the photoshoot are just as heartwarming as the final photo. (DayShauna Wiley)


Senior Colton Cattoor may be color blind, but that does not stop him from capturing the fun moments that turn into lifelong memories with friends, with a vivid sky as his background. (Colton Cattoor)


Senior Randell Carrier is a student dear to my heart – for his unique perspective of the world. With just a twist of his head, he sees things in a way most don’t even bother to consider. His picture of the underside of Tilton’s awning in Topeka is a perfect example. He took the photo, turned it on its side, added color, and now we have a totally new perspective, a glimpse into Randell’s world. (Randell Carrier)


Senior Alyssa Stewart captured the fresh snow blanketing the area as it started to fall, while also focusing on the complimentary colors, giving her whole image a peaceful serenity. (Alyssa Stewart)


I have to include this steel wool photo that Junior Blake Arndt accomplished in February. It was his favorite photo of the series and left me stunned. Blake worked really hard this school year to not only really understand long exposure but push his abilities with it. He worked with moving cars in Kansas City during the night and day, and then he moved to having subjects pose for his steel wool series, as pictured here. (Blake Arndt)


Every school year I aspire to inspire my students to do their best, but what I hope they know is that every year they inspire me to be my best and help them find their creative voice. Every year I am amazed at how the digital photography students are able to continue to top themselves.

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Josh Davis
Josh Davis

Josh Davis is a graduate of Washburn University. He teaches digital photography at Topeka High School and is the chair of the art department. He has just finished his 10th year of teaching and doesn't have plans to leave the profession anytime soon.