Several months ago, we received a message from a Los Angeles-based photographer, Jamie Siragusa. She was working on a project titled “Love Us All,” which provides art therapy to help children express their feelings about current events in our country.
At the time, she was working with kids from the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Los Angeles. She started her sessions by asking students to describe how they felt about the way people are treating one another in today’s society. Articulating their feelings with language proved challenging. However, once she provided tools such as paint and markers, they began to express themselves with ease, and Jamie photographed the process and the students’ finished pieces.
As soon as we saw her photographs, we could tell Jamie was a kindred spirit. The most effective educational communities seem to share a desire to help children process their world. By recording how they process, Jamie’s work reminds us of the myriad ways our students express themselves.
“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”
There is an artist in each of us. Jamie Siragusa’s stunning work shows us the relevance of art in our attempts to reconcile the world—especially for children.
Read on to learn more about Jamie’s artistic process and see her inspiring photos.
Kindred Spirits (KS): How did you come to the practice of photography, and when did you realize it could serve as a call to action and awareness?
Jamie Siragusa (JS): In high school, I took my first photography class and I absolutely fell in love with it! I learned how to photograph with film and process it in the darkroom. Up until about a year ago, I mainly took pictures of families, kids, babies and pets. I loved it, but I wanted to learn about different areas and aspects of photography.
This past September, I decided to enroll in the Los Angeles Center of Photography’s yearlong professional program. Since then, I have realized that I love documentary photography. Combining my love for children with my desire to create awareness for important causes has helped fuel my passion for human rights.
KS: Why do you think children relate to the color coding of emotions? What has been your greatest lesson in your experimentation with students and their color-coded emotional drawings?
JS: I think children can relate to color coding because it gives them a way to express themselves if they don’t yet have the language to do so. When kids experience uncomfortable emotions such as anger, confusion or anxiety, it’s often difficult for them to explain what they are feeling.
I implemented this approach with my 5-year-old son. For example, if he is upset at school, his teachers will sit down with him and talk about what is troubling him. From there, he can draw how he is feeling by using different mediums such as crayons and markers, giving him the opportunity to express himself with different colors. Since he started doing this, we have seen him calm down and soothe himself more easily, and he feels a sense of validation.
KS: What role can visual arts play in the lives of young people?
JS: Visual arts can help young people see their world in a different light. It can also connect them to other people with similar ideas so they don’t feel as alone. Rather than speaking or writing, kids can communicate through visual arts in ways that words cannot express.
KS: What advice do you have for the young or novice photographer?
JS: Taking classes has helped me learn not only how to take photographs but how to technically use the camera. They should research photographers whose work they admire, try to find a community for photography enthusiasts, and experiment with different genres (for example, portraits, documentary, street). Taking classes has also helped me realize all of the different avenues and options I have as a photographer. I am now able to branch out into areas I never thought possible.
KS: Are there any steps teachers, guardians and/or parents can take to support a young artist?
JS: One of the most important ways to support someone is to accept and encourage them to follow their passion. Art and photography can help them with self-expression, communication and voicing their opinions.
KS: Tell us about some of your upcoming projects.
JS: I would love to continue this project to help children gain even more awareness through self-expression. I have always felt passionate about children’s rights and been concerned about their individual well-being.
You can find more of Jamie’s work here.
And please comment about how you are or would like to incorporate the visual arts in your work with your students.
Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. Her passion for human rights education has led to her writing curriculum and consulting with nonprofit organizations like Creative Visions, Speak Truth to Power and KidsRights. She co-authored the Rock Your World curriculum and currently works with the team as a program coordinator. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Baldes has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.
Jess Burnquist earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time.com, NPR.org, and various online and print journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award. She teaches high school English, creative writing and AP Literature in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and is a program coordinator for Rock Your World. Her poetry chapbook You May Feel Your Way Past Me is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in spring 2017.