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Old Posted Nov 5, 2006, 6:28 PM
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Chelsea Now

November 3 — November 9, 2006

Camera kids capture High Line and ’hood

By Lawrence Lerner

Corinne Stonebraker doesn’t usually let her 4-year-old brother, Jonas, play with her toys. But this summer, the budding 7-year-old photographer from Jackson Heights, Queens, was all too happy to let him ride her scooter as she snapped photos of him in various spots near the High Line.

“I thought it was really cool to be a photographer. I took pictures of lots of things,” said Stonebraker, whose parents are ardent supporters of Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit dedicated to converting the railway into a 1.4-mile elevated park. Stonebraker takes art classes in Chelsea, where her parents met at a School of Visual Arts program on 21st St. and where they frequently return; Chelsea remains very much a part of their lives.

Stonebraker was part of a special project run by F.H.L., which teamed up with Fujifilm this summer to give one-time-use cameras to kids who live and play in the High Line neighborhoods of the West Village and Chelsea. The project culminated in an online exhibit at Friends of the High Line’s Web site, along with an exhibit of more than 80 photos in the Concourse Gallery at Chelsea Market, which runs through Nov. 12.

The approximately 100 children from age 3 to 12 who took part came from The Hudson Guild and Chelsea Recreation Center summer camps, as well as from families who have been longtime supporters of F.H.L. More than half reside in the Chelsea Elliot and Fulton Houses, nearby public housing.
“What’s important is to acknowledge everyone in the High Line neighborhoods,” said Meredith Taylor, the special projects manager for F.H.L. who ran the photo project. “To do that well, you need to approach kids with a variety of experiences.”

F.H.L. had a simple goal in mind when it conceived the project: Rather than offer a photo class, it wanted to experiment by putting cameras in the hands of kids and letting them run wild, giving them full control of what to photograph and how.

“We wanted to allow kids to show us the neighborhoods through their eyes, to show us what is important to them, and to show another angle besides the restaurants and boutiques now associated with the area,” said Taylor.

The result was an array of images whose breadth and quality impressed all of the adults involved.

“These kids are taking all kinds of shots — of their families, the neighborhood, where they play,” said Michael Ginsburg, director of marketing and events at Chelsea Market, who helped oversee the exhibit. “The final product is not childish but childlike, which, if you think about it, is what we all strive to be. We do a lot of kids shows, and I think we got really good photos in this one.”

Not surprisingly, being part of the process was as important for the kids as the final outcome. According to Erin Vega, coordinator of the Chelsea Recreation Center Summer Camp, merely being in possession of a camera was enough to make most of the children giddy.

“Kids aren’t usually trusted with cameras. Adults are too worried they’ll break them or push the wrong button and waste film,” she said. “Our kids treated the cameras very well because someone trusted them. They took great care taking pictures because they felt like it was an important thing they were chosen to do. Just holding a camera with their name on it made them smile.”

The photo project was part of F.H.L.’s larger children’s education initiative, which is now in its fifth year and has taken the organization into neighborhood afterschool programs and, as of this year, into High Line-area schools, such as the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies.

“We teach kids about the history of the High Line, do art projects and build models with them, and talk about the plant life up there,” said Taylor. “We also talk about why it was built in the first place and how the community came together to preserve it as a park.”

By working with children, F.H.L. hopes to cultivate a diverse range of park users now, which Taylor insists will pay off in the long run.

“When the High Line finally opens, we hope it will attract all kinds of people: people who are railroad buffs, people who go to art galleries, kids from the Chelsea and Fulton Houses who bring their parents, our e-mail list supporters, all kinds of folks. By educating people about the High Line now, hopefully all those people will come and use the park.”
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