AP photo class teaches the finer points of photography
(Olivia Crumm in Gwynne Bettencourt’s AP Photo class at Mamaroneck High School. On the screen is Crumm’s untitled image depicting the pressure girls feel to conform to society’s idea of beauty. Portrait by Tania Savayan/The Journal News.)
Mamaroneck High School senior Olivia Crumm is getting a pretty good idea of what it’s like to feel trapped in the high-school years.
The award-winning 18-year-old photographer is spending her senior year creating photos on the theme “Trapped,” the focus of her “concentration” in Gwynne Bettencourt’s Advanced Placement Photography class.
Like all 16 students in the class, Crumm works out her ideas in a sketchbook laden with research and images and snippets of inspiration. She refines those ideas, considers light and shadow, black and white, aperture, shutter speed, natural light, studio light.
Then she asks a friend to take part, either as a subject or to click the shutter on a self-portrait.
Olivia Crumm’s photo on the pressures to conform to society’s idea of beauty. Her subject: fellow AP Photo classmate Josephine Crochon. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
One of her most patient subjects is likely her AP Photo classmate Josephine Crochon. In an evocative photo Crumm composed, Crochon smiles softly while fingers pull at her face, trying to shape it into what they want it to be. It says a lot about image and the pressure to conform to society’s idea of beauty. It also says a lot about friendship, about one photographer helping another photographer to realize an idea.
“She was a trooper, having all those hands on her face,” Crumm says with a laugh.
The image is untitled.
“I hate titling my work,” she says. “I like to keep it open for interpretation. When I have to, it takes me a while.”
(Crochon and Crumm were both semifinalists in the “Best of College Photography 2012” contest by Nikon and Photographer’s Forum Magazine, from 14,000 entries worldwide .)
Olivia Crumm’s father shows up regularly in the 18-year-old’s portfolio. Here, he looks into a steamy mirror. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Sometimes, when friends are unavailable, Crumm finds a subject closer to home.
For a Day in the Life design project, she followed her father around New York for a day and created a small album of photos.
“He always sees the little details in things, so the shots kind of reflect that,” she says. “It’s all subtle and not a lot of things going on.”
In another photo, she captured her father standing before a steamy bathroom mirror, needing a shave.
“I’m glad he didn’t shave,” she says. “We turned the shower on for a while and the fog would clear up in 30 seconds and we’d have to put it on again. He’s always willing to help me.”
Olivia Crumm’s self-portrait, in a shower. She set the timer and hopped behind the curtain. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Another self-portrait — Crumm behind a shower curtain — is “one of those times when none of my friends would do it.”
She prefers black-and-white.
“The highlight of the shadow in black-and-white is stronger than in color. And I like the vintage effect. Plus, a lot of times I’m shooting in ugly areas. Like my bathroom is painted a mustard color. Black-and-white is the only way to go sometimes.”
In black-and-white or color, Crumm’s photos this year follow the “Trapped” theme, as set forth in her concentration’s mission statement which reads: “There are countless ways a person can feel trapped. Societal pressure, self-doubt, and consciousness all contribute to this discerning sense of suffocation. In my concentration, I am visually expressing the confusion, trauma, and outlandish sensation that results from feeling trapped. I am obstructing direct facial expression in order to visually symbolize the obscurities that can consume someone when they have nowhere to turn.”
This photo, of a man on the Bryant Park carousel in New York City, was a semifinalist in the “Best of College Photography 2012” contest by Nikon and Photographer’s Forum Magazine, from 14,000 entries worldwide. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Crumm knows that this is a progression, developing a photographer’s eye. She knows she’s a better photographer now than she was when she started.
“At the beginning, in photo, the curriculum is the basics and getting started with line, shape and texture. As the course goes on, you start to develop more into an artist and get your own style.”
“A lot of my stuff is a bit bizarre and scary,” she says. “That’s the biggest change from ninth grade to now. Ninth grade was all about aesthetics and what’s pleasing. Now, for me, it’s about evoking an emotional reaction from the viewer.”
Assigned a self-portrait using studio lighting, she took a different tack, posing with her bare back exposed to the camera, her head turned so that only one eye is visible.
“I never wanted just a straight-on view of my face,” she says. “I originally did this as something provocative and spooky, where you could see my ribs, but it came out looking really normal,” she says, with an air of disappointment in her voice. “Then I flipped through my sketchbook and found a spread I had made on deconstruction. So I ripped the print up and glued the middle piece back in a little bit off, a little distorted, slightly out of line. It made it more effective. I wanted to get something that was a little bit scary.”
The original of this self-portrait “came out looking really normal,” so Crumm deconstructed it, tearing the print and reassembling it, slightly out of skew. The result is pleasingly scary to the photographer. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Another scary image has a friend’s face covered in plastic — “the kind we get fruit in, from the grocery store” — and sucking in her breath. The result resembles Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
“People say that a lot,” Crumm says.
This photo certainly captures the concept of “Trapped.” Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Then there’s the image that won her an award of excellence at last month’s STart Exhibition at Concordia College’s OSilas Gallery in Bronxville. The photo shows photo student Alice Ma with her hair all splayed out, her wide eyes staring blankly out.
“This isn’t necessarily a pretty picture,” Crumm says. “I went to the opening reception at the gallery and I saw people making faces when they saw this. But that’s what I’m looking for. I’d rather get a really strong emotional reaction than have someone look at something I’ve made and say ‘Oh, that’s nice.’
“I shouldn’t only focus on what’s aesthetically pleasing and what people want to see. I should follow the direction I want to go. I should trust my ideas, even if they seem a little racy.”
This photo earned one of ten awards of excellence from among 90 works in the STart Exhibition at Concordia College’s OSilas Gallery last month. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Some of Crumm’s photos involve happy accidents, as in a beach image where the subject seems to be swallowed by seafoam.
“This actually didn’t mean to happen,” she says. “A wave just came and I hit the button by accident.”
An unexpected wave captured by Mamaroneck High School senior Olivia Crumm.
When she finishes her portfolio for Bettencourt, a board of AP judges will review it for its breadth, concentration and quality and award up to 5 points, making her eligible to receive college credit.
Bettencourt, who has been at Mamaroneck for four years, says the AP distinction is relatively new and gives photographers an outlet and a focus that can pay dividends. Students learn to critique photos, to appreciate them and suggest where work might be improved.
“We have a great community here and everyone helps each other out,” she says. “They learn to speak the same language and we’re respectful and honest. It takes 10 days to go through everyone’s portfolios. They’re really thoughtful at this point and can discuss a photo’s strengths and weaknesses and make suggestions for how to address them.”
A photo that people have trouble identifying at first has many layers: Fingers spread out behind a glass shower door to which a piece of burned paper has been placed. The glass door looks icy, so there’s a hint of fire and ice. “I like all the textures in this,” Crumm says. Photo by Olivia Crumm.
Crumm dreams of becoming a National Geographic photographer one day and has already been accepted to the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, with a scholarship to study photography.
AP art show: Mamaroneck High Schoool’s art department displays works from its AP studetnts in painting, drawing and photography on March 7 at the school’s Palmer Gallery.
Skectchbook: Watch a video about how Mamaroneck’s AP Photo students use their sketchbooks for inspiration and perspective at https://vimeo.com/43361005
Photo by Tania Savayan/The Journal News: Mamaroneck senior Olivia Crumm with one of the tools of her trade: one of the school’s Nikon D3100 cameras.