I.imagine AshtonDeMoss 11 Scaled 1, FotoFocus Cincinnati
Ashton DeMoss, Oil and Water, 2019. Digital metallic print, 11 x 14 inches. Courtesy of i.imagine

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i.imagine Helps High Schoolers Find Their Artistic Voice Through Photography

Posted on July 22, 2020

The local nonprofit exhibits Fusion at the Purple People Bridge July 19–August 14, bringing student perspectives to the community.

Cameras have never been more accessible to young people, and yet it still takes practice and encouragement to learn the technical skills required to make good photographs and to develop as young artists. That’s why i.imagine, a nonprofit based out of Union, Kentucky, has focused its efforts on making professional-grade cameras available to high school students, and guiding them toward an exploration in finding a distinctive approach to their image making. The student group will exhibit their work at Fusion, a show presented on the Purple People Bridge, now through August 14, 2020.

“I can’t think of a better way for a child to show the beauty that’s inside of them than through a photograph,” says Shannon Eggleston, i.imagine’s founder and executive director. “They’re good at selfies,” she says. “They’re good at saying ‘Here’s how I feel and here’s a picture of me.’ ” But i.imagine takes that expression one step further and works to help students find their place in a community of artistic voices. “We try to stop and preserve the beauty in who they are right now and take a minute to celebrate that,” she says. “We also try to get them to pay attention to the world around them and how you can connect that to what’s inside of you as a human being. I want them to walk away with a strong, confident sense of self.”

I.imagine RileyKeene 2 Scaled, FotoFocus Cincinnati
Riley Keene, Three Points of Light, 2019. Digital metallic print, 11 x 14 inches. Courtesy of i.imagine

Eggleston is a former photography teacher, and she carries that sentiment and practice to i.imagine, which she formed as a nonprofit in 2016 to extend her work to as many students as possible through an after-school photography club. Since then, i.imagine has delivered programming to nearly 1,000 local students. Says Eggleston: “I always tell the kids ‘It’s important for people to connect to you, because you’re important.”

The recent pandemic made that effort all the more pertinent—and difficult. The group had to postpone its original July 1 exhibition. “When we went to non-traditional instruction this past spring, we couldn’t connect with our students,” Eggleston says. So she and her team hit the road, literally driving around town with dozens of DSLR camera kits to deliver directly to student homes. “One thing that’s very important to our mission is that there will never be a barrier to a student having a camera in their hands,” Eggleston says. The students kept the cameras for a week and created images around a shared theme, Fusion, which is a direct response to these challenges designed to help students express ideas of community and connectivity. The images, 16-by-20-inch aluminum prints that the students will then get to take home, are exhibited alongside narrative and video biographies, linked with QR codes.

These cameras represent artistic excellence to the students, but they also represent mutual respect and trust, concepts that are baked into i.imagine’s mission. “When you have a camera like that around your neck, people look at you differently,” Eggleston says. “We say, ‘You are worth it. We trust you and we want to see what you can do. We want to see what you can create.’ ”

Says one student: “When I’m behind the camera, I feel inspired, because I feel that my pictures are my words.”

Fusion, July 19–August 14, Purple People Bridge, iimaginephotography.org