Last year, a shy teenager from Kent stood in front of a room full of strangers and explained how his photo series—featuring a group of friends smiling, then individual shots of them looking sad and angry—was all about social isolation. Another youth who moved around a lot with his single mother photographed and developed an image of a mailbox, an expression of his longing for a home.
It’s this ability to communicate without words that makes photography such a unique tool for youth development, says Trina Gadsden, executive director at Youth in Focus, whose 300 annual students sign up for the film and digital photography classes to have a place to feel connected but often lack the skills to do so.
The program’s South Seattle location features a large gallery space where students hang prints of their final projects, an adjacent darkroom, and a computer lab. Upon graduating from Youth in Focus, students express a newfound sense of self-discipline and an appreciation for community. “This is a safe environment, unlike school,” says Steven, a recent grad, in a testimony for prospective students. “Get out of your bubble. Broaden your connection with people. We’re all human!”