Randy Flynn likes taking photographs during family reunions and birthday parties, but the 15-year-old student had never given a thought to entering a photo contest until recently.
Now Randy is among 100 students in Watts taking part in Young Wings of Change, a photography competition sponsored by Giorgio Beverly Hills that kicked off last week at Edwin Markham Middle School with a visit from professional photographers.
"I just want to take photos of my neighborhood and the things that need to be changed, like all the homeless people," said Randy, a ninth-grader at Markham.
Participants from four schools--Locke High, 112th Street Elementary School, 112th Street Children's Center and the Los Angeles Achievement Center--were selected by teachers and school counselors based on academic achievement and maturity. The students were provided with disposable cameras and will be given three hourlong classes by a professional photographer. They will then will have 10 days to shoot. A panel of judges will select 20 to 30 winning photographs from among an estimated 2,500 entries.
The winning photos will be included in an exhibit Nov. 4 through Dec. 8 at the Directors Guild of America Los Angeles and will be displayed alongside works by photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Sebastian Salgado and Rubin Ortiz-Torres.
"This is meant to complement the 'Say No' campaign by giving kids something to say yes to," said Robert Arias, southwest regional director of Cities in Schools Inc., a national dropout prevention program. "We've been very thorough about impressing that this has to be a sustained effort."
About 40 students met with photographers and gallery owners Wednesday in preparation for Thursday's official start of the competition.
"What I want to tell the kids is not so much about the camera, but to shoot what they think is important to them," said Ortiz-Torres, who teaches photography at Otis School of Art and Design.
For Sheila Troupe, a Locke High School student, that advice will mean capturing the image of the Watts Towers.
"I think I'm going to take photos of the Watts Towers, because it represents Watts to me, a place where people go when they want a change of scenery," she said.
For others, the project is a chance to let youths speak for themselves.
"The photography is the least important aspect of the contest," said Daniel Roebuck, founder of Onyx Enterprises Inc., a photo agency. "What is important is that photography is a very immediate experience--you look in the camera and take a picture and get a picture of your life. And a lot of the kids today are told what images they should have from outside. Now they will be able to take photos of their lives and determine what the images are."