Photo students’ work published on New York Times blog ‘Lens’

These photographs, showing people at two popular locations in Palo  Alto, were submitted to the NY Times blog by senior Vivian Laurence as part of the My Hometown contest to portray life in Palo Alto.
These photographs, showing people at two popular locations in Palo Alto, were submitted to the NY Times blog by senior Vivian Laurence as part of the My Hometown contest to portray life in Palo Alto.
Vivian Laurence

Recently, photos from several different Palo Alto High School students were published in the New York Times photography blog, Lens.

Many of the Paly students featured are from one of Margo Wixsom’s photography classes as they were required to submit some of their work to this contest. Wixsom decided to have students submit photographs, unlike what she has done with similar contests in the past.

“I usually only have my Advanced Photo and AP students participate in this type of photo event, but because of how the topic integrated multi-disciplinary issues from American history, I thought it was very valuable for all of my students,” Wixsom said.

She explained that the New York Times required the photography teachers to create a lesson regarding the Works Progress Administration and Farm Security Administration photographers in order to teach students about that time period with regards to photojournalism history.  Students were then sent out to capture their own images with the newly acquired knowledge in mind.

The contest’s purpose was for students from a variety of schools and community-based photography programs to upload images of their hometowns, showing how life varies in different towns across America.  The end result was a collection of 4,289 photographs displayed on the blog website that depict how America is seen through the eyes of teenagers across the country.

Wixsom required Paly students to submit four images with four captions in the 5W’s style.  Many students chose to submit images that conveyed the importance of Apple and other technology products for Palo Alto citizens. Other students’ photographs depicted common scenes at local parks or outings to popular local places such as Foothills Park or the Baylands.

“One of the photos I took at the California Avenue Farmer’s Market is just an average picture of it, representing what our community does every Sunday,” junior Courtney Hartwell said. “My other photo was one taken during sunrise, just to portray the beauty of Palo Alto.”

As part of the contest, some of the photographs were selected to be displayed in the Library of Congress.  Various photographs submitted by Paly students were amongst those selected.

“I am very excited that Paly students had the opportunity to have their work archived in the Library of Congress. That is an amazing opportunity,” Wixsom said.

Wixsom works hard to provide a wide range of opportunities for her students to submit work, whether it be through contests or portfolios.

“I rely on a variety of contemporary sources that allow to participate in professional ways,” Wixsom said.

Photography is fairly popular in Palo Alto, and many teenagers are gaining interest in it.  One way they can explore it is through the Photography classes offered at Paly.

Hartwell, for example, began by taking Photo 1 her freshman year.  She then continued on to Advanced Photography as a sophomore. This year, as a junior, she is in the AP Photography class.

Paly photography classes challenge students to not only learn the skills of photography and how to use it to share their own perspective, but also the importance of photography and how it influences today’s society, as the New York Times contest did.

“I think the students gained an opportunity to see how important Photography is to our national history and to the development of the media in America,” said Wixsom. “Most importantly they gained an opportunity to frame their own perspective in a national venue and share their vision of American Life online at the NY Times and with each other.”

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