Panas photographs students in ‘Middle School Project’
Award-winning portrait photographer Lydia Panas recently partnered with Communities In Schools of the Lehigh Valley (CIS) on “The Middle School Project.” With funding from a 2015-16 Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Grant, obtained through The Lehigh Valley Arts Council, Panas shot fine-art portraits of 10 South Mountain Middle School students, then had them displayed on several Lehigh Valley area bus shelters.
While attending a CIS of the Lehigh Valley event with her husband Ed Baldrige, who is on the board of CIS, Panas was asked by a member of the organization if she would consider working with students who were at risk of dropping out of school. This was the spark that ignited “The Middle School Project.” CIS is a national organization dedicated to keeping children in school.
For Panas, who is most comfortable taking pictures of people she is acquainted with in the comfort of her studio located near Kutztown, setting up a temporary studio at South Mountain Middle School, then photographing students chosen by CIS, was a new challenge.
“This was a way for me to sort of get out of my comfort zone and go out somewhere,” she says. Since funding was limited, this was also an opportunity for the analog photographer to experiment with digital photography.
The purpose of the project is to provide public awareness of CIS in general and to make her work available to: “… a nice, new audience for me,” says Panas, adding, “… it was fun to work with these kids.”
For the students, it was “ … an interesting experience for them to work with an artist of international renown. They would get to see the process and be the center of my attention, because I spent so much time with each kid …” Panas explains. “… they would get their image on a bus shelter, so in some way they would get to be a ‘Star for a Day.’”
As the pre-teens and teenagers posed for their portraits, each was asked by Panas, “What are you afraid of?” and “What do you long for?” One student answered, “I’m afraid of people judging me and losing my mom and dad,” to the first question and to the second, “I hope to get good grades. I want to be smart and I want to give money to the homeless.”
The portraits are on display through May 28 at LANTA bus shelters at: Hamilton Boulevard and 24th Street, Hanover Avenue and Plymouth Street, Susquehanna and Ellsworth Streets, Union Boulevard and Plaza (Lehigh Shopping Center), Lehigh and Vultee streets, all Allentown; Nestle Way, 860 Building, Imperial Way and Windsor Drive, and 7360 Windsor Drive, both Upper Macungie Township, and 1552 W. Broad St. and 1555 W. Broad St., both Bethlehem.
Student portraits and their answers to questions are at Lydia Panas web site: lydiapanas.com
Information about CIS of the Lehigh Valley: cislv.org