Every kid loves the mystery of an unopened box.


On a recent morning, there were mysteries on most of the tables in the library at LH Williams Elementary School. Each one was guarded by an adult. At each of the tables were three or four fifth graders.


“What we supposed to have in the box?” student Zarianna Harris asked.


“You got to open it first,” Alyssa Hallman, another student, told her.


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After a teacher gave the ok, the students opened up the packages.


“A camera!” Alyssa exclaims. Sha’daja Fields, the third student at the table, joined Alyssa and Zarianna in laughter.


The students spent the rest of the period learning the basics, mostly using the strap and keeping their fingers off the lens.


There were 30 cameras total and they came courtesy of the Downtown Rotary club. The idea is to teach the kids how to document their school and the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood where they live. Horace Holmes is one of the project’s organizers. He quizzed Zarianna on her way back to class.


“You’ve had a camera before,” Holmes asked her.


“You’ve had a camera before,” Holmes asked her.



“Yeah, when we went on a field trip to go see the butterflies. Then we took pictures of butterflies....every animal we saw,” Zarianna said.




Longtime Macon photographer Horace Holmes, right, waits to hand out cameras to the LH Williams fifth graders participating in a project Holmes and Sandra Keil of the Downtown Rotary club are running aimed at promoting literacy through photography.

Holmes has been a professional photographer for a decades. He remembers when as a Georgia kid, still new to Boston in 1967, someone put a camera in his hand for the first time.


“It was a yashica 127, look down double lens, you know, a roll of Kodak Tmax black and white,” he said. “They told me to go out and take a picture of something so I went and photographed a Mona Lisa. It was a fire hydrant! It was my Mona Lisa, you know? And I came back, and when it came through the chemicals to this day was like wow!”

Holmes says he wants these fifth graders to have their own wow moments.




"Zarianna Harris made this image of Horace Holmes, left, and classmates on the photo project field trip to the Tubman African American Museum.

About a week later, the students were back and prepared to make images. The kids were rowdy, as you’d expect of any group of schoolkids pulled out of their routine to do something new. Horace Holmes pulled them back in line.


“If you’re talking you don’t get a camera,” he said. “Photographers, we listen when people talk to us.”




LH Williams students work with their cameras on their first shooting day." alt="LH Williams students work with their cameras on their first shooting day.

The students silenced, the cameras were handed out. Holmes got them pumped on their way out the door.


“This is your moment in time,” he told them. “We are ready! Come on, let’s say it! ”


The students repeated it back.


“We are ready!”


Again.


“We are ready!”


Assistant Principal Renee Theodore expertly got a group of boys, “My Boys” as she called them, into line and outside to shoot. There was something right out the school’s front door she wanted them to help people see.



LH Williams Assistant Principal Renee Theodore tries to organize students to get cameras in their hands on a shooting day in the LH Williams photo project.

“Y'all see this old house over here?” she asked the boys. “We want to get a shot of this cause we want to send a message that this needs to be torn down.”


She stood in front of the house and asked the boys to make her picture. They did, but they also pointed the cameras skyward, at trees, at each other.



LH Williams Assistant Principal Renee Theodore stands by a dilapidated house across the street from the school while she waits for students to photograph it on a shooting day in photo project at the school.

“Chandler, are you just taking nonsense?” Theodore asked.


“Got it!” one boy said.


The house was rotting, the windows were gone, plants were taking over. There are plenty of these houses in Pleasant Hill. For Theodore, that’s a problem.


“The children walk out of the building at the end of the day, that's the first thing they see,” Theodore said later. “The parents enter the building, that's the first thing they see. Visitors come off the street, from the board office, yourself coming in, what was the first thing you saw?”


Sandra Keil is the other project organizer. Keil was a Federal prosecutor for 15 years, but before that she was a teacher. She says the ultimate goal of the project is literacy.


“I taught writing and english of course,” Keil said. “And I love writing and teaching writing, so this was a natural.”


She sees photography as a great incentive to break out of the rut of assigned writing.


“I thought that the cameras and the images that they produced would be good motivation to write about. It's kind of a backdoor way to use that,” she said.


Students will choose their favorite photograph and then write whatever they want about it. Later, the photographs and the words the students write for them will be displayed at the Tubman African American Museum.


Three weeks into the project, the students got a chance to look at their photos. Time was tight.


“We only have about 40 minutes,” Renee Theodore told the students.


As the students looked at their work, there weren’t any “wow” moments like Horace Holmes once had. After all, these kids were born into a world saturated with images. But every one of them had at least one interesting frame to share.


Eventually an image made some of the students laugh.


The photo showed a boy on a bench outside the front school office with a huge scowl on his face. Was he mad? Sick? In trouble? They moved on to the next image, but not before they were telling stories.

Tags: LH Williams Elementary School, community photo project, downton rotary club