In 2015, Southern Studies graduate student Mary Blessey taught a digital photography class to children ages 9-12 enrolled in the summer program at Tutwiler Community Education Center in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Blessey completed this work as part of her fellowship with the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

The children used small point-and-shoot cameras provided by TCEC. All photographs were taken either inside the community center or during walks in the surrounding neighborhood. Sometimes, the children were given prompts based on their lessons, such as: “Take a picture of something you think is important”; “Take a picture using the ‘Rule of Thirds’”; or “Take a picture of a bright color.” The rest of the time, the kids were sent out to explore the community center and photograph whatever they wanted.

A few of the photos have captions written by the children. Some captions relate directly to the photograph; others are taken from an assignment where the children were asked to write a brief description of themselves.

None of these photographs have been cropped, edited, or altered in any way by an adult. These are the files straight from the camera—what you see is the creative composition of the child.

(Click each photo to reveal full image)

Below are photographs taken by Blessey at TCEC from the celebration at the end of the summer program, as well as of their “exhibit” displayed on the wall in the computer and photography room at the center. Captions are provided by Blessey.

Every summer, the kids memorize one poem as a group. At the start of each day, they recite the poem with one of the teachers. By the end of summer, everyone knows it and they perform it as a group for their parents and family at the end-of-summer program. The year I worked there, the poem was “Hey Black Child” by Useni Eugene Perkins. One ten-year-old named Katavious had the poem memorized very early on in the summer, before most of the other kids. I asked him to recite the poem for me and I recorded it on my phone: