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Scholar Voices: Skyler Wood Explains How Critical Exposure Expanded Her World

Junior year of high school was extremely important to me. Your junior year is the last full year of high school that colleges see, so there is a lot of pressure to do well academically but also be involved in extracurriculars. This fall, I was in search of an activity I could participate in and my counselor, Ms. Zimmermann, gave me a flyer for a photojournalism internship called Critical Exposure. She told me that Critical Exposure could turn into a paid fellowship and that I'd get to participate in writing, which is something I told her I loved. 

A week later, I attended the interview for the internship and decided I wanted to participate in the program. Every Monday and Wednesday after school I would go uptown to 12th Street to the Thurgood Marshall Center to participate in whatever activity was planned for the day. Some days we would practice using different photography techniques by taking pictures of the surrounding neighborhood and each other, other days we would sit down and have open discussions about feminism, political activism, police brutality, education, or other topics that concerned us today. 

I started participating in Critical Exposure just to learn how to take better pictures but I got so much more. I ended up forming relationships with people who had the same interests in art, music, and photography. In addition to meeting wonderful people, I learned that photojournalism was more than just taking pretty pictures. I had to be able to take a picture of something and explain what emotion or feeling that picture was conveying so that others could view my photo and get an idea of what I was seeing. I think the most important thing Critical Exposure taught me was that my voice matters. I've always been a very opinionated person but I didn't always know how to use my voice productively. I now know that if I don´t say how I feel on issues that truly affect me I´m doing myself a great disservice no matter how big or small the problem is.  

This past March I transitioned from being an intern to a fellow, but due to COVID-19, I only got to come to Critical Exposure once and after that one visit, the city went on lockdown and life changed. I missed being able to see everyone in person but I was still able to participate in Critical Exposure through Zoom. (You can view the exhibit online). We wanted to do a photo exhibit to document the time spent in lockdown because it was a new experience for all of us. We titled the exhibit, “Life on Lockdown.” Each fellow submitted one or two pictures they had taken either before or during lockdown and we all worked to write captions to explain what they meant to us.  

Since we would not be together physically to showcase our photos we decided to have a virtual exhibit that was also held through Zoom. The youth coordinators presented the opportunity for any of the fellows to volunteer to discuss the exhibit. One other fellow and I volunteered. We discussed what our pictures meant, how we felt about COVID-19, how we felt like the city was handling COVID-19, our opinions on police brutality, the riots, looting and the stories behind our pictures. It was a really good conversation and a lot of people came to watch us speak. I´m glad that I was introduced to Critical Exposure because it´s given me a lot of opportunities and introduced me to my love of photography. 

Photo Captions:

Youth Facilitation Institute, 2020

“Being cooped up in the house was a challenge, both mentally and emotionally, in the first few weeks of lockdown. Not being preoccupied with the things you usually have to deal with when you leave your house everyday forces you to think. Stepping outside to get fresh air even at night helps you clear your mind.” 

Youth Facilitation Institute, 2020

“Lockdown has been a time of growth for me, I’ve learned a lot about myself. This roadblock that doesn’t block anything reminds me of all the changes that have occurred during this time, both good and bad.”


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