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Local photographers in the making - St. Cecilia’s School showcases 5th graders’ work made through BrightLights program

The crispness and professionalism of the photos belied the age and inexperience of the photographers. To this untrained eye, it looked like they could have been done by professionals.

That’s because the young photographers at Greenpoint’s St. Cecilia School (15 Monitor Street) – the site of an impressive student photo exhibition last Thursday – have been working intensely with professional photographers for the past five weeks.

The school partners with BrightLights, a photographer-in-residence program that runs a 12-week seminar at the school every year.

Over a span of 22 hours, the school’s fifth graders – about 21 students in all – learn the tricks of the trade from professionals culled from the rich arts scene of North Brooklyn and the rest of the city.

The free, non-profit program is the brainchild of Patrick Mulcahy, a professional photographer and Greenpoint resident who came up with the idea in 2001 while taking a leadership class at Landmark Education class.

The program relies upon the contribution of cameras and film from Fujifilm, as well as pro bono film processing from Coloredge and Lexington Labs.

Also providing donations are the many artists that volunteer their time to teach the once-a-week, hour-and-a-half workshops.

Mulcahy settled upon St. Cecilia’s as the recipient for his program for two reasons. The first was its proximity to his Greenpoint home; the second was the school’s large population of special education students who struggle in traditional academic subjects but might have heretofore unexplored artistic talent.

“A lot of these kids can excel at this where they don’t excel in other ways – it appeals to the creative side of their brains,” Mulcahy said.

“Teachers will come in and say [about a student], ‘Really, this is his work? But he doesn’t talk,’” he continued.

“Well maybe he doesn’t listen in math, but he listens in this. You don’t need to have a Ph.D to be an artist.”

Mulcahy’s decision to focus on fifth graders was based on their ability to handle the material as well as their willingness to express themselves through art without being self-conscious.

“Fifth graders have that verbal aptitude and ability to understand, but they still have a creative sense. They’re not nearly as subject to peer pressure as sixth graders,” he said.

The seminar is conducted using traditional 35 mm film. Mulcahy said this purist approach gives students an appreciation of the sanctity of a snapshot.

“So much with digital cameras is just point and shoot. It’s disposable – if you don’t like it, it goes away. With 35 mm, we teach them to carefully consider what they’re doing,” he said.

At the end of the class, students were sent off for two weeks with a color and black and white roll of film. Of the 72 images they took and developed, only one was chosen for the exhibition.

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