It was up just this evening: for a few hours at Hollingsworth Gallery Thursday, 15 student photographers–all between 10 and 16 years old–saw the work they’d produced since February displayed on the same walls that, before and after their one-evening show, would be reclaimed by the works of Edson Beckett, the Flagler County Artist of the Year. (His works are on exhibit until Jan. 7.)
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For those few hours, those young photographers were part of the big leagues. The art market included: their works were for sale, some of them at set prices, others at auction, and every dime they’d make over and above production costs would be theirs, assuming they had buyers. That’s the idea of photographer A.J. Neste’s “Voice” program, one of several under the Flagler Beach-based Florida Endowment Foundation that gives younger people a head start on real-life skills and arts, including the business end of it: students don;t just learn to compose and shoot photographs. They learn how to get their work to market–and sell it.
Thursday evening was the culmination of the year’s work.
“I wanted to show them that not only is photography fun, not only are they really good at it, and are creative and artistic with it, but they can also make a couple of bucks,” Neste, a former staff photographer for the USA surf team, said, referring to his students. “And there was a lesson involved in that in the classroom about what it takes and what I have to do when I hold a gallery. When I hold a gallery I have to find my images, I have to edit through thousands of photos, then I have to find the ones that I would think someone would want on their wall. So not only are you editing for yourself, but you have to think: what would someone else like?” Then came the figuring of costs to get the pictures printed, matted, framed, and presented. They had to figure out how much to charge to cover the expenses and give themselves a profit. “It was a really good way for the kids to get excited–not only are people going to like my stuff, they’re going to buy this.”
Neste is no stranger to the various angles of a photographer’s world: his father, Anthony Neste–think glamor, The Sopranos and 13 years with Sports Illustrated–is a professional photographer. That passion for photography is in the Neste blood, and judging from some of the students’ reactions to their few months with A.J., you don;t have to be in the family for the passion to get passed down.
The works on display reflected the quality of students who’d done their homework, who’d learned to frame a subject sharply and confidently–a lone egret, a lone seashell, a familiarity with that arresting focal point that’ll make the casual viewer do a double take and give the image more than a passing glance. There were also the experimenters with shapes and colors, though only one or two stabs at the most intimidating subject of all: the human form. That’s to come. (The photography component of the voice program is in limbo for now, however, having run its two-semester course.)
Colleen Conklin, who divides her time as a school board member and an executive with the foundation, was there with foundation CEO Heather Beaven (yes, the same Heather Beaven who just ran against U.S. Rep. John Mica), who has little patience for suggestions that somehow the coming generation is backsliding.
“What you see here is the most promising, amazing, creative, innovative, determined generation this country has ever seen,” Beaven said, pointing to the students in the foundation’s program (and the works on the walls) as an example.
“The whole purpose of everything that the foundation does is to prepare kids for careers,” Conklin said. “This particular program, voice–it stands for Victory Over Instability by Choosing Education–the idea is to tap into a student’s inner voice and to show them through multimedia careers, how they can share the stories of their lives, their communities, and their passions, whatever it might be.”
Bringing the one-evening show to Hollingsworth was a natural fit. “There’s such an organic and futuristic feel here that I was like, it would fit the students so well,” Neste said. “I know that they would just feel at home in here. As soon as they all came, they were the first ones to come, the kids, they were just like, Oh my gosh this place is so awesome. There’s just such a good vibe in here.”
Hollingsworth owner JJ Graham had done much of the grunt work for the show, juggling it with his own classes, the sheer toil of temporarily removing one show, putting up another and doing it all over again within the span of 24 hours–all while spending half his nights painting in Hollingsworth’s studio. He stood to the side for most of the evening, letting Neste and the students have a little more than 15 minutes of fame.