Thirty years ago, Wendy Ewald was in Letcher County teaching students how to document their lives through photography. Ewald will be back in Letcher County on Saturday and would like to reconnect with some of her former students to see what they are doing now.
Ewald taught photography classes at Campbell’s Branch, Cowan, and Kingdom Come elementary schools between 1975 and 1980. Her classes were funded by a grant from Polaroid, which she used to buy film and cameras. She later received money from the Kentucky Arts Council for supplies and salary.
Ewald said her focus in teaching students was “to reinforce their self-confidence and their pride in themselves and their families.”
“They were just so great and so talented,” said Ewald. “I’ve worked with a lot of kids around the world and they were the most talented.”
Ewald said she has been able to locate about 60 of the 150 students she worked with. She already met with some of the students in the spring and found that many of them still enjoy taking photographs.
“I’m so proud of them all,” she said.
Self-portraits and other photographs taken by the students were compiled in a book titled “Portrait and Dreams” in 1985. The book was named one of the 10 best art books of 1985 by the American Library Association.
Ewald said the book, which was co-published by Appalshop, will be reprinted and republished. She said she would like to update the book by adding stories and current photos of some of the students featured in the original book.
Appalshop Archive is preserving media that documents Ewald’s work with children as well as videotaping her return visit on August 8.
“She had a very good way of collaborating with (students) and trusting them and valuing what they produced,” said Elizabeth Barret, media maker and director of Appalshop Archive. “They were given freedom and support and encouragement to tell their own story using still photography.”
Barret said the Ewald’s photography project “encouraged young people to think about where they live, their dreams and communities. … She felt that a young person’s view of the world was important and good to share that view.”
Ewald has been teaching photography to children and adults for more than 30 years in many parts of the world, including communities in Labrador, Colombia, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Holland, Mexico and Canada.
Ewald attended Antioch College and studied photography with Minor White at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ewald, who teaches collaborative art at Amherst College, is also a senior research associate at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and a visiting artist with Duke University Center for International Studies.
Ewald has published 10 books in addition to receiving many honors for her work including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Visual Arts Fellowship. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Andy Warhol Foundation and the Fulbright Commission.
The reunion will take place at the new education center of the Letcher County Extension Service, located at 478 Extension Drive in Whitesburg, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on August 8.
Former students are asked to bring old and new self-portraits to the reunion.
Those who plan to attend or who need more information, may call Appalshop at (606)633- 5708 or (606)434-5658 or e-mail portraits.dreams @gmail.com.