The unguarded moments

Right before Christmas, I had the chance to photograph a Christmas party that Lydia Home put on for their Urban Academy students.

The Urban Academy is described on their website as “an accredited, non-traditional high school that provides a safe, nurturing environment for students who may have experienced academic adversity in the past. With a Christ-honoring staff, we believe in empowering youth through education, advocacy, and discipleship. Each class is designed using differentiated instruction based on student interests, readiness, learning styles, and social-emotional needs.”

The party was hosted at the home of one of the teachers, and with a baketball hoop in the alley, a trampoline in the yard, ping pong and videogames in the basement, I was able to photograph the teens as they engaged in activities and with one another.

At first, a lot of them pretended to hide when I approached, with that awkward teenage embarassment that too much attention can cause. They giggled nervously, they hid their faces in their hands, they skitted away.

But as the morning unfurled, they started to ignore me.

And act like themselves–

–which is exactly what I was after.

And in between the posing and laughing and hamming, something magical happened in the faces of these teengers.

It makes me understand why some people think that pictures steal away a part of the soul.

The unguarded, soul-showing expressions were my favorite shots of the day.

No defenses–no smiling for the camera–just pure, unadulterated personhood.

It’s one of my favorite things about photography.

Whether it was a moment of concentration . . .

. . . or a stare into space . . .

. . . or a whimsical smile . . .

. . . or a playful grin.

I loved the experience . . .

. . . and I loved the results.

The staff obviously cares for these teens, and it was fun to see them relate, instruct, identify, share, and laugh.

I sent the CD with all the images to the Lydia Home staff last week, and I hope they can put these to use–but it was worth it to me no matter what just to get a glimpse into these lives, and these beautiful faces.

9 thoughts on “The unguarded moments

  1. Joanne

    This school sounds like such an amazing supportive environment! I know that especially in underprivileged areas, public schools are SORELY lacking and are really just adding to the vicious cycle that living in such an area can perpetuate. I love that this place is breaking the cycle. And that you got to share it with us. Makes for an uplifting Monday!

  2. Kay

    Jenna, these are wonderful images!! The more I learn about photography, more I love to capture these unguarded moments like you did, so beautifully!!

  3. Suzie

    We need more schools like that instead of letting juvenile homes get full because they “don’t fit in” at a regular school. (I worked at a juvenile home for years). That’s awesome that you took some pics for them and put it on a CD. I’m sure they will love the results, you’ve done a great job!

  4. Veronica Miller

    I love this school and I love your photos too! I’m so glad they relaxed b/c their faces, which you described perfectly, are just beautiful to behold in a relaxed state. You really captured their “personhood!” :)

  5. Kimby

    Jenna, their faces will stay in my mind (and heart) for a long time. Such a poignant portrait of “personhood” — absolutely wonderful. I would rather look at real faces like these than made up, cookie-cutter models. Much more depth. Thank you!

  6. Twinky

    FABULOUS face fotos…. And now for the naggy mother: don’t cut off the feet!! That one shot of the guy dribbling the basketball would have been spectacular if the feet were under him showing the full length of the movement you so aptly captured! Feet. Feet. Feet. Unless you are doing face shots =).


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