Students lend vision to Eyes on Main Street festival

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For the last three years, Jimena Cabrera has looked through the camera viewfinder composing photographs of her hometown of Wilson.

The fifth-grader from Wells Elementary School is one of nearly 100 children hitting the streets to capture a youth perspective of the city for the Eyes on Main Street Wilson Outdoor Photo Festival.

This is the fifth edition of the festival, which kicks off Saturday.

Jimena’s images were widely used last year in the children’s gallery, which, this year will be located on South Street adjacent to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.

Jimena sees and she shoots “anything that looks interesting.”

“I think it’s fun and I like taking pictures,” Jimena said. Photographers, she said, “can say what they want to say and speak what is on their mind.”

Over the last year, she’s been practicing with a camera at home. She really enjoys editing the photos she takes on the computer.

“That’s what I like to do — editing the pictures,” Jimena said. “I have learned how to take a picture and how to work with it.”

Juan Giraldo, a program instructor, has volunteered his time for four years to help the children turn their visions into good photographs.

“As a person that comes from a similar background, I think it is important to get art and to get these kinds of programs into kids’ hands,” Giraldo said. “Even if it is only for like a day, it changes lives. I think there is not a lot of art and culture being taught in schools and we are gearing everything toward so much STEM that kids aren’t being exposed to enough art and things that will make them think differently.”

Giraldo has teacher friends who complain that so many programs are geared toward testing. This photography program gives them a distraction from all those things, Gilberto said.

“Let’s say that out of 20 kids that are here, you get one or two that pursue something in the arts. I think it’s good,” Giraldo said. “It is beneficial. It makes people think differently.”

Children who have repeated the program are given a special distinction.

“We like to call them captains just to give them a little bit of ownership of what they are doing,” Giraldo said. “They never cease to amaze us. Sometimes you explain things to them once and they are taking off. And they are doing amazing work.”

The children have fresh eyes.

“They are here all the time. The nice thing about it is they know the city better than we do regardless of how many times we have been coming down here and they are seeing it through their eyes,” Giraldo said. “In terms of narrative and trying to describe a place, they have a better understanding of it because they are here every day and their families have been here their entire lives and I think it is nice to have a young person’s perspective.”

Giraldo, who has also been an artist in residence at for Eyes on Main Street, said the children come back with surprising results.

“They still wow us when they come back,” Giraldo said. “The beauty of these digital cameras that we get from Canon, they can take 100 pictures and they will come back with five. Sometimes you will have someone who only takes 30 pictures on the card and 50 percent of them are winners and it gets hard at the end of the day. It’s like ‘Oh well, which one do we pick?’

Generously speaking, the children will shoot 10,000 or more images.

Jerome De Perlinghi, artistic director for Eyes on Main Street, said the program participants always try to educate the children and try to make it interesting for them.

“It is giving them a chance to discover something for themselves. There is a lot of freedom there for creativity,” De Perlinghi said. “That is a great way to share with them an artistic vision and most of these kids really embrace that vision.”

Program organizers always ask how many of the kids have shot photographs before.

“The second question is ‘How many of you have shot pictures with a camera?’” De Perlinghi said. “There is usually one or two in the whole group.”

For the festival, Canon provides cameras for the children to use.

“We trust them with a nice piece of equipment. We empower them to be creative and the kids love it,” De Perlinghi said. “They just basically go out there and grab the world with their images and that is a very powerful statement.”

Peter Fitzpatrick, a professor at Columbia College of Chicago, has led the children’s program since the festival started. This year, the Diane Dammeyer Initiative at Columbia College gave Eyes on Main Street a substantial grant.

“Ms. Dammeyer was interested in our program working with children and she gave funding for the next three years, so if everything goes well, they will be funding in 2020 and 2021,” De Perlinghi said. “It is very important.”

The whole team will help put children’s gallery up on Thursday. It will be filled with enlargements of the work the children did during the 2018 Eyes on Main Street festival.

On the streets of Wilson, De Perlinghi and volunteers have recently installed gigantic photographs from all over the world.

“I always say that if you insert 10 photographs from those kids into the main show, I don’t think you would be able to find the photographs from the kids because their photographs are so good,” De Perlinghi said.

For more about the festival, visit www.eyesonmainstreetwilson.com.