Inside/out is a multi-year project aimed at providing the environment, tools and teaching to encourage students at a non-profit, non-public school in finding their creative voice through photography and writing, exploring their world and communicating through imagery and written expression those things that speak to their thoughts, feelings, values and ideas. This School is an environment created to support individuals with diverse talents, strengths and needs, many of whom are on the autism spectrum.
The first project, begun in the Fall of 2014 and working with high school students, was facilitated by Clinical Director Patricia Sandler and Art Educator Dr. Kelly Kotowski, the group set out to collaborate on a photography and writing project to provide the students mediums and methods to express and find their voice by exploring themselves, their place in the world and the things that mattered most to them. Students were each given a digital camera and exposed to a wide variety of photography. During the course of the project, there were specific assignments given, as well as structured and unstructured writing exercises. Students were asked to document those aspects of themselves and their lives that spoke loudest to them, and expressed their thoughts and feelings about identity and their worlds.
The second project, begun in the Fall of 2015 and working with elementary students , was facilitated by Patricia Sandler. Each student was given a disposable black and white film camera with which to document the things that they cared about. During the course of the project, we again looked at many genres of photography, practiced “seeing”, and utilized structured and freeform writing exercises to encourage and increase written expression.
At the end of both projects, each student engaged in a collaborative portrait session with Patricia Sandler. Students were encouraged to think about any particular clothing or props they wanted to bring. During each session, Ms . Sandler asked students to engage in an interactive process which might allow them to center themselves and think about who they are and who they let others see. These sessions were created in order to give each student an experience of being fully present, and allowing that presence to be witnessed by another, in this case, the photographer. Once the portraits were printed, we engaged once again in a writing exercise, first as a class together , and then in 1:1 sessions with Ms. Sandler, as they responded to their image. This writing was very structured and gave students two prompts. The first was “When I look at this picture I see…” and the second, “Most people don’t know that I…”.
The portraits were intentionally done at the end of each project in order to document what was expected to be an increased sense of trust and willingness to be seen; a positive outcome directly connected to facilitating a creative, safe, art-making environment with children, teens or adults.