Portsmouth photographer begins residency at Hopkinton schools

Last modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
As second-grade students swarmed around photographer Nancy Grace Horton in the art room at Harold Martin School in Hopkinton on Monday, a little blond girl in pink pants stopped to stare up at her, taking in the woman and her big black camera on its tripod.

Her eyes were wide, and her small voice was serious.

“I’ve never seen a photographer in person before,” the girl said, then darted away from Horton to join the end of the line as her class filed out the door.

This week, Horton began a residency in Hopkinton’s Harold Martin School and Maple Street School that will stretch over 12 days in the next month and a half, partially funded by the state Council on the Arts. She has worked in photography for more than 20 years and is based in Portsmouth, but she’ll travel to Hopkinton through December to spend time with every class at the two schools.

In the next six weeks, she’ll be helping the students “become lookers,” Horton said.

“I think what will happen is their eyes and minds become open to looking at the world in a different way,” Horton said. “They’ll start looking at something that’s so common in a new way. . . . You can give it perspective by what you choose to frame (in a photograph).”

And for students used to framing their photos on a digital camera or a cell phone, even the first days of Horton’s residency were a chance to –

very literally – look through a different kind of lens. To introduce photography to her classes, Horton set up an interactive display of photo negatives, canisters of shiny film and cameras from the days before digital display screens and “delete” buttons.

At Maple Street yesterday, Anna Locke, 9, peered through the wrong end of the lens on a bulky early-20th-century camera.

“Where do you look through on this?” she asked, baffled by the camera’s bellows and thick film.

The freckled fourth-grader had never seen a roll of film.

“Not in real life,” she said.

But she has a digital camera, she said, and she stood a little taller when she talked about taking pictures of peacocks on a recent trip to the zoo.

“Really, you can go someplace and see new things when you take pictures of them,” she said.

Photo negatives – “I’ve seen them at the American history museum,” one boy shouted – were also foreign to most young students. When Parker Wuellenweber, 9, stared at another of Horton’s cameras, he was fascinated by its rolls of film.

“Sometimes I use my mom’s iPhone (to take pictures),” he said.

The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Maple Street will be using digital cameras to take their own photographs during Horton’s residency. Her fourth-grade classes will be assigned images of nouns, capturing people, places and things, Horton said, while the sixth-graders will snap pictures of regular objects and buildings that look like letters of the alphabet.

The fifth-grade students will spend the most time with Horton, as they create a collection of photos of their families and day-to-day surroundings.

“The story is going to be their own lives,” she said.

At Harold Martin School, younger students such as Joan Follansbee’s second-grade class make “photograms,” or imprints of objects created by natural light on special paper. As her students made bunny ears on each other for one of Horton’s flashing cameras, Follansbee snapped her own pictures of the class on her iPad.

“I bet they’re not familiar with regular old cameras,” Follansbee said of her students. “I’m excited for them to experience regular film cameras because I think everything’s digital for them.”

And while her students might know how to click a button on a digital camera, Follansbee said Horton’s classes will expose them to a new form of art.

“They think about art as pencil and paper, crayon and paper,” Follansbee said. “So opening their minds about what they can do, seeing all of these projects and being able to touch them really piques their interest.”

Art teacher Kim Emerson watched her students ask questions and flip through books of Horton’s photographs. Hopkinton schools usually host an artist or musician each year, she said, but she was particularly excited to bring photography into her classroom.

“It’s more of a process than snap, click,” Emerson said. “Photography is a lifelong skill as society becomes increasingly visual.”

Students will use their own digital cameras from home during the project, Emerson said, but the school will provide cameras for those who don’t own one.

Horton spent Monday and yesterday greeting all of the students briefly to begin her residency, but she promised them she would be teaching them more about her craft as she returns to their art rooms.

“We’re all going to be photographers together,” Horton said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)