BELMAR, NJ — Red Bank Regional High School senior Sarah Caldwell shot her photo “Smashing Powders” with a classmate the day school was closed in March because of the coronavirus.
Her colorful piece is now part of the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy annual senior photography show — a culmination of work this school year by 10 graduates studying commercial photography.
This year, the show with an opening reception was scheduled to be held at Surf Taco in Caldwell’s hometown of Belmar, but the COVID-19 crisis made that impossible and instead the 100-piece exhibit was posted online — an effort spearheaded by Dawn Lisko, an art teacher in the academy.
“I wanted to act quickly,” said Lisko, who also lives in Belmar. “Technology was the first thing everyone thought of.”
Initially, Caldwell said she was disappointed with the shift to a virtual venue. “It (was) sad because when we do have a show at an actual place, we get to leave school a little early,” she said. “It’s a little bonding experience for the seniors.”
However, she now sees a more far-reaching upside to the change — the fact that more people can see their work on the web ... and for an indefinite time.
And Lisko agreed, as she has received positive comments from parents pleased that long-distance relatives now have the opportunity to see the creative expressions of these talented students.
The show’s goal is to create a body of work that represents every student and their varying styles, ranging from pieces that showcase digital and film techniques to those that combine mixed media art, according to Lisko, who also leads youth art workshops at Belmar Public Library.
As for Caldwell, she said she’s always had an interest in art, but never knew how to express that creativity until she tried photography. Her style, she said, includes rich colors and portraits “with a twist.”
The 18-year-old’s personal favorite in the show is “Shades of Humans” — a digital manipulation piece that was inspired by a cartooning project she worked on last year.
“I’m really proud of that because I came up with the idea on my own,” explained Caldwell, who plans on attending Ramapo College this fall. “It started out just faces and everything else was black and white. As I was experimenting, I put the mosaic in their clothes and hair.”
Caldwell also has a soft spot for dogs, which make prized subjects in much of her personal work. At home, she lives with her three dogs — Gus, a bulldog mix; Ryan, a Vizsla; and Elsie, whose breed is unknown. At one point, Caldwell said she even tried to start a business to cartoon people’s dogs, but ended up giving the artwork away for free.
The students’ work in the show is available for purchase with the money going directly to the students. Typically, it is split between the school and students.
“This year they were a very creative group of kids,” said Lisko. “I couldn’t be more proud … that they were able to transition and get everything up and look as professional as it does.”
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