CLARKSDALE – A week-long photography workshop here resulted in seven stories about the revitalization of this community through the eyes of students.
Most used the skills they learned to tell about local businesses and people that helped revitalize Clarksdale.
But two students, Alison Fullilove and Tyler Yarbrough, decided to do something different — they wanted to commemorate the lives of dear classmates and friends who had passed away.
Chase Bailey, a student from Lee Academy, lost his life to cancer in 2015. Dayeveon Hill, a Clarksdale High student, lost his life to gun violence in February.
When Fullilove began to talk about Bailey on Saturday during the presentation of the photo stories, she started crying, causing others in the crowd to get teary-eyed.
When asked what was the most challenging part of creating the piece on Bailey, Fullilove said “I didn’t want to do it wrong.” She said she felt that God laid it on her heart to do the photo story to honor her friend.
Yarbrough said constructing his story on his classmate and cousin, Dayeveon Hill, was a touchy subject because his death was very recent.
“I hope that people can stop looking at stereotypes of different communities and different sides of communities in our city, but also come out to listen to these stories, listen to the people behind those stories and see that we are all the same,” Yarbrough said.
After the stories of Bailey and Hill were finished, filmmaker Alison Fast asked for a moment of silence.
The weeklong training was hosted by award-winning filmmakers Chandler Griffin and Fast, his wife. The Blue Magnolia Films project was produced with Barefoot Workshops and sponsored by Corner To Corner Productions and held at GRIOT Arts, Inc./Meraki Roasting Company, a community space for youth.
The workshop was for students interested in media, communications, and community leadership. It was free for participants attending Clarksdale High School, Lee Academy, Coahoma Agricultural High School and Coahoma County High School.
Seven of the 10 available slots were filled: Yasmine Malone, Nickalus Jones, and Yarbrough from Clarksdale High School and Fullilove, Michaela Wells, Sarah Levingston, and Talmadge Lewis from Lee Academy.
“This project, well this week, is really rooted in giving high school students in Clarksdale the reins to tell a story of what revitalization means to them,” said Griffin. Griffin has done workshops in Clarksdale over the past 12 years, but this was the first one for youth.
The projects from the workshop will become a part of a statewide storytelling effort highlighting community voices for the Mississippi Bicentennial called “Celebrating Storytellers,” Fast said. The Clarksdale program was the first of 10 community workshops the two will host throughout the state.
Students found areas of opportunity and engagement by visiting downtown businesses while also sparking their creativity for their own stories, which featured : GRIOT Arts, Inc./Meraki Roasting Company, Bluestown Music, Sweet Magnolia Gelato Co., Clarksdale Animal Rescue Effort & Shelter, and Tri-County Workforce Alliance.
At the end of the week, students chose 20 images that they took and created their own three-minute photo stories.
They used the iPhone 7 Plus, provided to them during the workshop, to take their photos. The students used other apps and software such as Pro Camera to capture images in RAW and JPEG format. They also used Adobe Lightroom for editing photos.
Griffin said during the week some of things the students learned were how to use the iPhone 7 Plus, how to criticize and critique photos and how to use audio for voice overs. He also taught students techniques for making good photos, such as waiting for the decisive moment, light and composition.
“Light creates composition — period,” said Griffin repeatedly during one class session. To illustrate to students the role that decisive moment, light and composition plays, Griffin showed the students photos from renowned photographers like Cartier Bresson and Mary Ellen Mark.
“You guys are from Clarksdale and are making stories for Clarksdale,” said Griffin. “Think about how people are going to process the images.”
On Saturday, family, friends, community members, and others gathered at the Clarksdale Station Depot to witness the photo stories.
“Both the photo workshops and the field documentary workshops have been so vital to telling the story of Clarksdale and Coahoma County because so much of our story is about the people that are here,” said Kappi Allen, executive director of Clarksdale and Coahoma County Tourism.
Throughout this process each student learned many different things, but one thing was common: learning the importance of becoming storytellers.
“In our community, I feel like we allow the negative to outweigh the good and that’s only because we allow other people to tell our story,” said Malone.
“I learned the importance of really telling a story through photography and how important it is to highlight special people in the community,” said Jones.
The students also learned that you don’t need an expensive camera to take nice photos.
“I’ve learned that you don’t need a $500 dollar Nikon to make beautiful pictures because you can easily do it with an iPhone,” said Wells. “It’s amazing what technology has come to.”
Laeitta Wade, photographer, filmmaker, and Delta State University graduate, helped to mentor the students and foster a better understanding of storytelling.
“If anything I just wanted them to see life through a more positive viewpoint,” said Wade. “When you start to see the beauty through your lens, you also see the beauty everywhere you go.”
Rone Walker, Head of School at Lee Academy, said she felt this workshop was important for youth in the area.
“I just think its so important for the young people in our community to work together, get to know one another, and learn about the community and the issues that we have here,” said Walker. She said her hope is that her students will come back and work in the community to tackle some of those issues by “having a voice and helping to solve those problems.”
“We’re looking to the young people to point the pathway forward because they belong to the future,” said Fast at the community screening. “Its not very often especially in Clarksdale where we clear that space for them to inform us about certain pathways to revitalization to what its like giving for the community and to remember what’s important.”
The students’ work will be on display in downtown storefronts. A QR code will be plastered on the photos to allow viewers to see the three-minute photo stories. Clarksdale Revitalization, Inc. provided a $2,000 dollar grant for the project . John and Robin Cocke matched that $2,000 dollar grant.