- May 15, 2019
As recently demonstrated by dozens of Orange County Public Schools students, everyone views life through a different lens and everyone has a story to tell.
This fall, OCPS Arts asked the district’s high school photography students to communicate their view on COVID-19 through a black-and-white photo challenge.
Twenty photos out of more than 80 submissions made it into the “Through Their Eyes: 2020” exhibit at the Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center in downtown Orlando. Six of those photos came from students in three West Orange-area schools.
Representing Dr. Phillips High are Anika Mallu, Hannah Devenney and Israel Ostos Escalante. Joshua Rodriguez represents Olympia High, and Joshua Cuadro and Maria Ferreira Rodrigues are Windermere High’s finalists, although Maria has since moved.
Students were asked to communicate how COVID-19 has impacted or changed their community. According to OCPS, a selection committee curated the more than 80 submissions and chose pieces that exemplify standards taught in the photography course.
“Students need an outlet during these challenging times, and the arts give them the op portunity to let their voices be heard,” said Christy Garton, OCPS’ K-12 visual arts resource teacher. “‘Through Their Eyes: 2020’ opened the door for students to show us what they see and feel as a result of COVID-19. They are impacted in ways adults may not fully understand, but we are able to see what they see by looking at these beautiful pieces and reflecting on the meaning of what they have shared.”
Originally, Joshua Cuadro, 16, wasn’t planning to enter the contest, but his teacher had other plans.
Katherine Norton, digital photography technology instructor at Windermere High, encouraged her students to submit a photo for the districtwide contest.
After Cuadro realized it was an assignment, the gears in his mind started turning — and now, he’s glad they did.
The junior has loved the arts and digital photography since he was in middle school. A creative mind, he loves drawing and taking photos.
“These scenes are a powerful reminder of what is happening on a daily basis. I feel these types of challenges ... are important to one’s growth as a photographer and visual storyteller.” — Katherine Norton, Windermere High photography teacher
“I wanted to go into photography, because I enjoy taking pictures, and I enjoy catching moments that could be saved by a photo and you could look at it for years and years and look back on it,” he said. “At the same time, photos give a story. Even if they don’t have words, they give a story behind it. It inspired me to do that. There’s a lot of things that you can show the world and you can show people with a photo instead of writing it down, typing it out or speaking it. A photo can explain it all.”
His inspiration for his photo, a self-portrait taken on his mother’s iPhone 11 Pro Max, came from the melancholy emotions many have been feeling since life was turned upside down back in March.
“I came up with the idea of putting on a mask and getting myself looking like, ‘You’ve been in your home for so long, you don’t even know what to do with yourself anymore,’” he said. “You’re just staring outside a window wishing you were living the life you lived a couple months ago, when this wasn’t an issue and you didn’t have to walk outside with a mask in your pocket or on your face.”
Creating a self-portrait using the iPhone’s self-timer function was a bit different for someone who prefers nature and landscape photography, but Joshua wanted to communicate the human emotions behind the pandemic.
As he would discover a few weeks later, he and his former classmate, Maria Ferreira Rodrigues, made the cut.
“I was thrilled the images were selected for sharing as part of the challenge showcase,” Norton said. “Josh created a very poignant self-image showing the longing of lost freedom and of being alone; something to which we all can relate. Maria’s image shares the interaction between family who must remain separated due to the situation, but who are still able to find a way to connect and show their love. These scenes are a powerful reminder of what is happing on a daily basis.
“I feel these types of challenges ... are important to one’s growth as a photographer and visual storyteller,” Norton said.
Although iPhones have great cameras these days, Joshua said he would love to get a DSLR camera of his own. He wants to learn how to use it and be able to control the camera settings rather than the phone doing it automatically.
For now, Joshua continues to hone his creative skills. He said he was surprised by the fact that his photo was chosen as a finalist.
“I’m still shocked at the fact that my own photo made it into the finals,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen. When you really look at mine, just a person standing there with a mask on and staring outside the window explains exactly what impact COVID has had on everyone.”