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Ballot Box Project Develops Young Photographers in Collinwood 

Last March, we told you about Collinwood's Ballot Box Project, a $120,000 grant initiative designed to allow residents of the North Shore Collinwood neighborhood to directly decide which projects would be implemented and assisted through public funding. Several projects were selected from the categories of Collinwood History, Vacancy, Healthy Eating and Youth Engagement. One project in particular received more than twice as many votes than any other proposal: Bridget Caswell's Collinwood Camera Club.

"The Collinwood Camera Club uses photography to help young adults look more deeply at life and develop the skills they need to express their experience in a meaningful way," Caswell, the club's founder, explains. "Each week, we meet with professional photographers from around Northeast Ohio at Waterloo Arts where the photographers discuss their work and training. Each of these professionals present a new photographic skill set and expose the students to a new career path. One of the students in the club has decided to go on to study photojournalism in college because of her experience with the club."

The group of teenage photographers has met every Wednesday since June 8. Guest speakers have included professional photographers Stephen Bivens, Rami Daud, Gary Harwood, Tim Harrison, Lori Kella, Karin Clark McKenna, Roger Mastroianni, Anna Norris, Yvonne Marie Palkowitsh and Dan and Suzanne Price.

"We covered every type of photography from photojournalism, sports, food, portrait, weddings, fine art, street photography, studio, available light and even 'shooting through' things like prisms," Caswell says. "I can't tell you how proud I am of the dedication of these kids. I had one student who came to the club meeting on her 16th birthday and one that came the day his dad had open heart surgery."

During June's Waterloo Arts Fest, as well as July and August's Walk All Over Waterloo, the club offered free studio portraits to visitors. "Students get hands-on experience with studio lighting and practice the techniques they have learned by offering free portrait sessions to the community," says Caswell.

This first gallery exhibition showcases work completed by student members during these initial three months. The exhibition is a two-night event at the Maria Neil Art Project. Presented in a gallery in the heart of the neighborhood in which these photographs were captured, the work gains context from the neighborhood it represents. Students walked these same streets, attempting to simultaneously capture, understand and communicate the ever-changing stories of their neighborhood. The exhibition will be open this Wednesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m.

"We're very excited to host the inaugural exhibition of the Collingwood Camera Club," says John Farina, co-founder of the Maria Neil Art Project. "Offering a professional gallery environment is exactly what these hardworking and talented neighborhood young people deserve."

Residing in Collinwood for nearly a decade, Caswell has taught several photography classes for the community in the past, and regularly photographs around her community. Previously, she served as board president of Arts Collinwood before its rebranding into Waterloo Arts.

The Collinwood Camera Club was made possible by the Ballot Box grant program through Northeast Shores Development Corporation and ArtPlace America. Ohio's first "participatory budgeting experience," the projects' proposals were voted on by members of the neighborhood in March.

For more information on the Collinwood Camera Club, visit their Facebook page. For more information on the Ballot Box Project, visit ballotboxproject.org.

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