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REGION : A Winning Image: Higher Self-Esteem

November 13, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

Picture this: A boy is frozen in a back flip above an abandoned mattress in a debris-strewn alley somewhere in Watts.

Another 23 images like these captured by South-Central youths are on display beside professional works in "Magic at Play," a photo exhibit at the Directors Guild of America through Dec. 2.

The photos were taken by youths who are in Los Angeles Cities in Schools, a dropout prevention program based at Markham Middle School in Watts. Of 60 Watts-area students in kindergarten through high school who participated in the photo competition organized by Giorgio Beverly Hills, 13 were winners.

"I can hardly take pictures, so I thought I wasn't going to win," said Tenille Hyde, 12, a Markham student who made two winning pictures capturing 9-year-old Matthew Johnson in a midair flip. Johnson was also one of the winners of the competition.

Over three days in September, the youths received pointers from professional photographers and then let loose with disposable Kodak cameras. One day they were escorted through Nickerson Gardens and Will Rogers Park in Watts to search for the "perfect" neighborhood photo of children at play.

"We saw kids playing on mattresses and started to take pictures of them," Hyde said. "They got very camera-happy and wanted us to take pictures of them jumping."

The next day they were taken to Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier to capture urban images in a "city shoot."

On Oct. 15 a panel of judges made up of professional photographers and gallery owners chose the winners. After the exhibit ends at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., the works will be displayed in New York City.

"The camera is an extension of one's eye and mind," said Jan Kesner, owner and director of a gallery near Hollywood. "In these pictures you recognize the children's sense of wonder and discovery in using a camera for the first time."

Kesner said judges were looking for decisive moments that captured universal themes where play was occurring, whether there was action in the photo or not.

Hyde's mattress acrobat and Johnson's snapshot of two girls on park swings are a sampling of what the other winners' work is like.

Tonisha Mellon, 11, caught her neighbor Rachel with a Mona Lisa smile as she was about to blow out three candles on her birthday cake. That same day in Watts, Erica Perez, 20, immortalized her 2-year-old daughter Kimberly picking bright red roses from a garden.

Cities in Schools is a national dropout prevention program. It works one-on-one with young people, preschool through high school, and their families to keep children in school and to develop their confidence for success.

Sharon Simpson, managing director in Watts of Los Angeles Cities in Schools, said the photo competition typifies what her program strives for.

"From the littlest--like Matthew--to the oldest, they feel good about themselves," she said. "That's what these opportunities are all about. A lot of it is building self-esteem while at the same time seeing their own home through other eyes--the camera."

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