Matthew Myer reads a poem he wrote inspired by Douglas Dean’s photo, “The Forgotten Piece,” shown projected next to him, at the First Friday opening of the PhotoVoice exhibit.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Young photographers explore issue of teen alcohol use

Whether it’s looking at the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the impact of climate change or living with the tides, Homer artists have long used a variety of media to explore social and environmental issues. It’s no surprise then that when the Homer Prevention Project developed strategies to address underage drinking, art again came up as a tool.

Last Friday, “Making Choices About Alcohol: A Youth PhotoVoice Project” showed how teenagers used photography to explore that theme. Twenty young photographers in their own ways answered the project’s question, “What factors in our community affect a teen’s decision to drink or not drink alcohol?”

“It’s blown my world to take something like PhotoVoice and arrive here tonight where the walls are full of art and the air is full of discussion,” said Rachel Romberg, head of the South Peninsula Haven House prevention team, in a discussion about the show during the reception.

Student photographers spoke about their work in a panel discussion, and two student poets, Matthew Myer and Sierra Cortez, read poems they wrote that were inspired by some photos.

Romberg and Tara Schmidt, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker also with the Haven House prevention team, coordinated the PhotoVoice project, done in collaboration with the Homer Prevention Project. Over 12 weeks last semester, Romberg and Schmidt worked with students in Homer Middle School teacher Rand Seaton and Homer High School teacher Alayne Tetor’s classes to develop photography skills and explore the issue of underage drinking. 

Out of community health assessments that developed into MAPP, or Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, the Homer Prevention Project came about to address specific issues identified through MAPP projects as issues of health concern. Two major issues are underage drinking and adult heavy and binge drinking. PhotoVoice was one of the strategies the Homer Prevention Project came up with to look at underage drinking.

“PhotoVoice was chosen because of its ability to help tell the story of complex factors in the community that affect teen choices to drink or not to drink alcohol,” said Esther Hammerschlag, director of the Homer Prevention Project.

“The idea was to give assignments that would push limits,” Schmidt said. “We looked at it from lots of angles. How can you tell this story through composition? How can you tell it through contrast?”

Students didn’t use high-end cameras, but point-and-shoot digital cameras. Many of them used iPhone or iPod cameras. Most of the students came at the question by looking at factors which influenced teenagers not to drink. Some, like Molly Mitchell’s photo of a girl walking on the beach at sunset, looked to the natural world as a reason not to drink.

“I realized this is one of the reasons I don’t drink,” Mitchell said. “The world is so beautiful I don’t want to miss it.”

Other photos were more staged, like Chelsea Marsh’s posed photo of her model, Sierra Moskios, passed out and holding an empty bottle. A strip of masking tape covers her eyes, and on her belly Marsh painted a drawing of a stomach and intestines.

“When you drink, you lose yourself and your identity,” Marsh said. “You’re blind to your inner nature.”

Mina Gherman used a posed photo of two girls on swings and manipulated it with photography apps the way earlier photographs might use darkroom techniques to change an image. She drew a jagged line through the image, separating a happy, cheerful girl on a swing from a girl hanging upside down on another swing. The black-and-white photo looks like a 1960s-era newspaper photograph with half-tone screening. That was a bit of a surprise to Gherman, but it worked out, she said.

“It turned out to mean what I meant it to mean,” she said. 

“I am showing a girl who is torn,” Gherman wrote of her photograph. “While drinking may bring a sort of peace to one part of her, it also brings pain and neglect to the other.”

Several photographs used the same motif of hands, fingers or feet grouped together to show how friends, family and teammates can help young people stand together and avoid bad decisions.

Artist Libby Fabich said her photo of a trio of hands holding other hands represents the importance of sports and teamwork to her. A basketball player at Homer Middle School, she said, “A team is pretty important to me. I would rather play basketball and do things with them.”

Taking a similar approach, Briea Gregory looked at how music can be an alternative to drinking. In a panel discussion, Gregory talked about how Tetor discussed the concept of leading lines in photography. Her photo follows the strings of her mandolin across the image. She took the photo in response to a prompt by the PhotoVoice teachers, “How would you describe Homer?” Gregory used a photo of a musical instrument to show one aspect of Homer, its music scene, and how playing music is important to her.

“I thought, the reason I don’t drink is I have something else to do,” Gregory said.

Artist Christopher Bice looked at how sports and the outdoors can provide positive factors to not drink. His photo shows his cousin, Ro’en Bice, at sunset standing at a snowboarding spot. Like Gregory’s photo, it also uses leading lines — a road, overhead power lines — to draw the viewer’s focus to the snowboarder.

“I thought, I have to take this photo,” Bice said. “We were enjoying what we were doing.”

Romberg acknowledged the challenge in looking at alcohol use and abuse, and the bravery of some students in their approach.

“This subject is not always easy, particularly when you touch a subject close to home,” she said. “Our main goal is to start a discussion and offer a dialogue. We want to open a door and put a magnifying glass on it.”

Romberg said photography worked so well as a technique to explore underage drinking that they’ll do another PhotoVoice project, possibly on the issue of masculinity. The Homer High School class was done through the Focus on Learning program, but this semester Tetor hopes to do a PhotoVoice project in her regular art class.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.

Making Choices About Alcohol
A Youth PhotoVoice project at K-Bay Caffe

Works and artists

Freedom in a Song
by Briea Gregory

Let Yourself Grow
by Celeste Fairbanks

by Christopher Bice

by Aurianna Richtback

The Forgotten Pawn
by Douglas Dean

Puppy Problems
by Joe Ravin

by Aurora Shadle

by Kaitlyn Baker

by Laci King

A Team Can Go Far if they Work Together!
by Libby Fabich

by Maggie Alston

by Marissa McGuire

by Mia Alexson

by Molly Mitchell

Love, Life, Family
by Sarah Wolf

by Chelsea Marsh

Don’t Drink and Swing
by Mina Gherman

Invisible Me
by Oliver Beck

A Bright Future
by Lauren Cardwell

by anonymous artist

Molly Mitchell stands next to her photograph, “Gratitude” at the First Friday opening of the PhotoVoice exhibit at K-Bay Caffe. -Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Christopher Bice stands next to his untitled photograph at the First Friday opening of the PhotoVoice exhibit at K-Bay Caffe. -Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A sign at the PhotoVoice exhibit poses the question artists were asked to explore: “What factors in our community affect a teen’s decision to drink or not drink alcohol?” -Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Libby Fabich stands by her photograph, “A Team Can Go Far if They Work Together,” at the First Friday opening of the PhotoVoice exhibit at K-Bay Caffe. -Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News