Developing photographers at VHS

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Editor’s Note: October’s edition highlighted student athletes. Over the next few months, the South County News will spotlight the arts in our area and schools.

An interview with Tony Lindeman, VHS photography teacher

How do you develop student photographers?
I look at skill development from several angles: 1) technical aspects in relation to light, cameras, and developing equipment (darkroom/CPUs/software) and compositional aspects in relation to photography. 

What equipment is used?
At VHS we are currently in the process of implementing more mirrorless cameras into our current inventory of DSLR cameras. I have always used digital Nikon cameras. They offer lens sharpness, user-friendly features and rugged body styles. I’ve used Nikon cameras for over a decade now and have yet to have one come back broken due to a drop.

We still have film cameras in our inventory, as archaic as that sounds. I use the Canon Rebel K2 cameras as their multiple exposure features really appeal to our student population. I value the film format in the sense that it truly emphasizes one of photography’s most valuable lessons: Visualize the final image before depressing the shutter, recognize the lighting you’re working with, balance your exposure, frame the subject from multiple perspectives, and fill your card.

What do you emphasize?
With photography I emphasize the triangle of exposure; aperture, film speed, and shutter. Those are the three ways of altering the way light is recorded (on film or a sensor). Understanding how those principles of exposure impact the final image is critical to a successful photographer. When I teach composition to students, the main emphasis is perspective. I tell them to ask themselves this question: “How can I turn an ordinary subject and make it extraordinary?” Viewing angles and how you choose to capture a subject can take a common subject and turn it into an award-winning shot. You also must keep an eye on your background and eliminate unnecessary elements. I also preach the phrase, “keep it simple.” Move in or zoom in on the important elements to tell your story through the photo.

Do you offer independent study?
Unlocking someone’s passion to tell their story or keep creating is my job during independent study — students who are willing to research and put in the time excel. I do guide them, but students who have a great work ethic and sound research skills really thrive. 

What does the future hold for photography students?
Students have always been attracted to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts High School Area Show in the early spring. Our students have won numerous scholarships from colleges. It is a juried show and always brings out the best of the best. It’s a target show and one that always gets marked on our calendars.

We have had several students become successful photographers. Most will keep it as a hobby. Most keep their love for photography alive by future courses or starting a side business. Trevor Ritsema is a local photographer in Kalamazoo and is highly regarded and successful. Jaymie Gapayao is a very talented and creative photographer. Liz Weddon is now a graphic/web designer and lead photographer at Kzoom. Sami Trimble and a number of other former students still photograph on the side as a hobby for clients. I always tell my students you will be using these skills daily for the rest of your life. 

What do you find rewarding?
What I find the most rewarding is simple — it’s about the relationship. If you want to get the most out of a student, you better be able to talk to that student about subjects outside of your content. It must be genuine as well. If it’s the beginning of bow season, I talk strategies, equipment, and weather with my students who hunt. Yesterday I saw a student wearing a metal t-shirt, and I began singing a tune to her and it turned into a great conversation. I have a passion for sports. Pay attention to a student’s extracurricular activities and their passions is what I’d tell educators. Invest in students and their interests if you want them to take great photos or create extraordinary works of art. I peeked my head into the prayer club (as I recognized a song) after school and a student asked me to pray for them. These things are powerful to me.

What’s most rewarding?
I could easily answer the question with a certain photograph or drawing but it goes well beyond the work…it’s the person behind the camera, paint brush, or pencil.

Talking to Anna Lacey, Vicksburg art teacher

Anna Lacey’s students hard at work painting portraits.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

An interview with Anna Lacey, Vicksburg High School art teacher

How many years have you been teaching in the district?
This is my 2nd year at Vicksburg High School. Previously, I taught 10 years at Vicksburg Middle School.

What classes do you teach?
I teach Art 1, Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Printmaking, AP Art.

How do you develop student artists?
All people are artists whether they feel they have “strong” skills or not. Art is a fundamental skill to developing critical thinking, problem solving, fine motor skills, creativity, and alternate ways of thinking. Art isn’t “picky”; there isn’t one way of doing something, and, in a way, anything goes!

What do you think inspires your artists?
I teach students to look around them for inspiration, what captures their attention and how that can translate to their work. Allowing students to tie in personal connections helps them become invested in the work. Student choice is a big component of my classroom and teaching philosophy.

Could you explain the Advanced Placement Art offering?
Every other year VHS has an AP Art section. Students have to form an independent investigation/inquiry that will guide their work for the year. They produce artwork throughout the year and submit a portfolio of 15 examples of their work (processes, ideas and materials). The College Board evaluates the work and awards scores based on the final portfolio and written reflections. Generally, there are 8-12 students who participate.

What competitions do your students enter?
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has a juried art show each spring. Last year five VHS students had work accepted and displayed in the show, and three even earned college scholarships. Last year one student had a piece accepted in the Michigan Art Education Association state art show. The piece was on display in Ann Arbor along with a selection of other work from students around the state.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching art?
When students can be themselves in my room. Many find art to be an escape. My favorite is when I see a student truly feel proud of their work, when they accomplished something they weren’t sure they could.

Prairie Ronde Artist Residency finishing 5th season

Colleen Woolpert and Rani Young will have an art show on November 21.

By John Kern

Born of a desire to meld the pleasures of small-town Midwestern living with Vicksburg’s long history of celebrating creativity and the spirit of doing, the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency is nearing the end of its fifth season.

Over that span, Prairie Ronde has hosted over 60 participants from around the world, from places as diverse as Taiwan, the Republic of Georgia, Israel, and all over North America. It’s showcased a range of talents from sculpture and paint to poetry, textiles, and soundscape.

Prairie Ronde is unique in that it is a fully stipended program that asks its residents to focus their creative thinking on the Mill, its surroundings and history, or on Vicksburg.

This season, with the assistance of key partners, the residency has broadened its focus to include more music and events designed to offer increased public visibility. Continuing those efforts will be a large part of the coming year’s focus.

The opening of the Prairie Ronde Artist Gallery, located at the corner of Prairie and Main Street next door to Mackenzies Bakery, created an opportunity for visitors to explore pieces from Prairie Ronde’s permanent collection and special displays. They included a showcase of works created by the 20 participants of an international e-textile symposium and 3-D mapping pieces created by local youth as part of the Kalamazoo County Parks and Recreation MAPEA 2022 summer program. The program was sponsored by the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) and headed by Kalamazoo artist, Natalya Critchley.

The e-textile workshops were a true departure for Prairie Ronde. Providing logistical support for 20 artists from all over North America challenged the residency team in ways that it had not yet encountered. The medium, a melding of traditional textile techniques with digital and electronic elements required the creation of temporary workspaces and the borrowing of at least two looms from the South County Fiber Arts group. Visiting artists and event organizers loved their experience in Vicksburg and are eager to return.

In November, art fans can attend Double Jinx, an evening exploration of pieces created by recent Prairie Ronde residents Colleen Woolpert and Rani Young, twins who worked together for the first time as collaborators to create a series of Mill-related art. The one-night-only show will occur on Monday, November 21 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the gallery on 101 E. Prairie Street.

In addition to hosting artists this year, the residency also worked with Kalamazoo-based muralists, DreamScene Placemaking, and the VCAC to create two small, community-oriented paint-by-number murals, currently located in Liberty Lane West and on the exterior of the Gallery, across from Oswalt Park. The murals enlisted the help of artists of all ages and fostered a true sense of community involvement.

Plans for the coming year include an increased number of public events in and around the gallery so that members of the community can have the opportunity to explore the ideas of professional creatives from around the globe.

For a closer look at the artists and their work, visit their website at or, if you’d like to receive email updates about coming residency events, click on the CONTACT button at the top of that page.