Life through their eyes

Photographers give Hutch School students new ways to frame life
Sydney (left) and Kinsey
Photo by Dean Forbes Hutch School student Sydney (left) captures an image of her friend, classmate Kinsey. Photo by Dean Forbes

Here's something you don't see every day in the Cascade neighborhood: a dozen or so high-school students walking at various gaits along Minor Avenue North wielding disposable cameras and stopping to capture images of just about anything that catches their eyes — dumpsters, parked cars, a beer truck, the Cascade playground and, most popular, each other.

This brief photo frenzy on a sunny morning in early January marked the start of a unique project called "Through My Eyes," brought to the Hutch School by David Whelan, a former photography studio owner. He is passionate about photography and he's also had some experience with cancer; a close friend lost two siblings at a young age by the disease. So late last year, when it came time to propose a community-service project to fulfill a requirement for a class on self-expression and leadership at Landmark Education, Whelan approached the staff at Hutch School with a novel idea: Give each of the students a disposable camera packed with 35mm black and white film, teach them a few basics about composition and then let them spend a morning taking photos.

Margaret Flatness, high-school teacher at Hutch School said, "The school students enjoyed the opportunity to take photos and share them with one another. The whole experience of being a 'photographer for the day' sparked some great discussions about all the potential opportunities for photographers."

"Hutch School aims to provide both the academic structure and emotional support for school-aged family members who have moved to Seattle to be with their patient," said teacher Eileen Hynes. "The photo project was a concrete example of the students engaging in a lesson designed to meet both needs."

Whelan recruited a friend, Jerry Gay, a former Seattle Times photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, to join the project. He also secured donations of cameras, film and processing from Kodak, Panda Lab and Glazer's Camera.

"I see photography as a way for people to express themselves," Whelan said. "The purpose of my project was to encourage the students to see life optimistically wherever they are and whatever they are doing. The pictures they make in their minds and the feelings they have in their hearts can make them secure wherever they are."

During the first of three class visits, Gay shared a slide presentation of some of his photography and then taught the students about using the cameras and "seeing" the world around them with the camera. On the second day, Gay and Whelan accompanied students and some staff on short excursions to the Cascade Playground and to the rooftop garden of the Pete Gross House, where Hutch School is located.

The pair returned a couple of weeks later with processed prints and frames so that each student could choose one image to frame and give to the parent or sibling who was undergoing cancer treatment.

"Basically, it was a multi-level learning and giving project about the power of pictures — the ones we take in our world or that we make in our minds," Gay said. "It was also about giving and receiving, healing each other and our world, with our vision of ourselves and each other."

Seattle Times photographer Alan Berner covered the project's photography day and wrote a story that appeared in the March 1 issue. Access the online version, which includes a link to Berner's photos of the students at

Whelan created an online, narrated movie of the project that features the students and many of their photos. Access the movie at

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