Growing our programs for the whole family, Feather River Art Camp introduces a Nature Photography course for kids 6-12.
interview with Ed Mickens
Part introduction to an art form, part science and environmental awareness, and part “just for fun,” Kaminska’s class will expand the camp’s recreational program to engage kids, while their parents concentrate on the week-long adult classes in painting, mosaic, encaustics, fabric or music. It expands the mission of Feather River Art Camp to create an art-based, personal-growth experience that’s fun for the whole family.
“The first thing we do is observe nature,” says Kaminska about her upcoming class. In the camp’s setting-nestled amid the Sierra forest along Spanish Creek-that’s inevitable. But Kaminska has a larger purpose in mind.
“For example, we observe trees,” she explains. “We look at trees, talk about trees, and what trees do for us. I encourage each child to choose a tree and to think about its story. Then we begin to shoot, to create and tell that story of the tree.”
The story of the tree visually unfolds and expands with a different assignment each day: “One day we’ll look at leaves, the forms and shapes, and talk about what leaves do for the tree, and take pictures of that story. On another day, the assignment will be ‘light,’ so we look at shade and reflections on the tree, and the relationship of light and trees. Each connection adds more to the story.”
The core idea of the program is to introduce children to the basics of photography while immersed in nature. The exploration of nature through a camera lens can focus kids on the appreciation of depth in digital images. They learn how to use the structure of the photographic medium to tell their story. In the process, they build technical skill and visual integrity.
“I encourage the kids first to think about the composition,” says Kaminska. “If you like something about this tree, think about it, talk about it, then photograph it to explain.”
For Kaminska, the arc of the story is crucial, regardless of whether the story is visual or verbal. She began her career in experimental theatre and performance art in her native Poland, during the heady days of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. Artists stood with laborers to speak truth to the face of Soviet repression. While the authorities cracked down hard in response, prompting many artists like Anna to emigrate, the Solidarity movement and moment are considered a pivotal step toward the breakdown of the Soviet Union and occupation of Eastern Europe. Stories change history.
Now far removed from the politics of that time, Kaminska found new expression in photography (traditional and digital). She studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. In addition to teaching and designing book covers, she has photographed archeological sites in Peru and, with marine researchers, blue whales off the California coast.
She finds solace in nature and the joy of teaching children. “Kids at this age (6-12 years) have such a lovely freedom,” she says. “They don’t think about boundaries and I find that brings such joy and inspiration to my own work.”
Performance and story weave their way through her program at Feather River. “I want the kids to experiment with portraits by photographing each other in nature,” she says. “And I want each student to make a ‘movie’ from their stills, to tell the story of their experience.”
As for the parents of her students, Kaminska asks two things: one, is to provide the children with a simple digital camera, “one you can pick up for $20-30 at Target,” with a removable chip. “I prefer they not use cell phones. Cell phones are too familiar, and have so many other uses.”
Second, she asks that the parents themselves stand back and observe the child’s experience. “An important part of what I teach is confidence,” she explains. “Confidence in their art. Confidence in their story.” At the end of the week, she expects her students to participate in the all-class exhibition that is a tradition at Feather River Art Camp. But she wants each student to decide what and how to exhibit.
“I know the parents mean well, but guidance or approval can interfere with the process. They, too, can get something out of this program by just observing nature – their children – at work. Remember, we’re building the confidence it takes to be an artist. But we’re also building the confidence it takes to be a steward of nature. A steward for the future.”
Ed Mickens is a long time writer.