Pick of the Week

Artistic Eyes

Walk through the second floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, and you'll find approximately 40 images hanging in the Eyes of Tomorrow exhibit. These photographic images have been digitally altered to produce bright flowers, colorful objects and striking nature scenes.

As the title of the exhibit suggests, the eyes behind the camera are those of artists with a promising future.

Eyes of Tomorrow features photographic works by children who are or were in residential care at La Paloma Family Services. The agency serves families and at-risk children ages 12 to 18.

Randy Hansen, a former advertising executive who ran an agency in Los Angeles, is in charge of the Creative Photography Group at La Paloma. He has seen heartbreaking family situations, in which parents are addicts, in jail and abusive to their children. Hansen has worked with at-risk children for the past 15 years in Los Angeles, Nevada, New Mexico and now in Tucson.

About a year ago, David Bradley, the CEO of La Paloma, had a vision to create an art program at the agency. He tapped Hansen to set it up.

"After six months of the program, it became really stable. We have three classes a week: one for boys, one for girls and a therapeutic class for kids who have been severely abused and have more issues," says Hansen.

Each class has about 12 students who are at various levels of experience. They are given assignments, the first being to take a photograph of plastic cups stacked in a pyramid. On computers, the students take a look at the shadows and colors of their images and alter the resolution, tint and exposure.

"We work inside the studio, but temper it with field trips. We have gone to an auto show on Fourth Avenue, Saguaro National Park, the (Arizona-Sonora) Desert Museum and different galleries," says Hansen.

The quality of work has pleasantly surprised him. "I've paid people a lot of money, and they didn't have the talent these kids have. ... I drive home at night and can't believe these kids are coming up with this art. It blows my mind. I am in awe."

Francisco, 17, has several pieces in the show. His works include a hot rod with bright red swirls, a rock formation taken on the way up Mount Lemmon, and a spiky cactus that would be painful to a wayward hand. Hansen says he is "one of the most naturally talented people I have ever met."

Clara Harvey, 16, is one of Hansen's first students. She also has several pieces in the show. Flowers are her favorite objects to work with. Harvey would like to continue in the photography field after she finishes school. "The class taught me a lot about photography and how to look at things in a new way. It has been a really great experience," she says.

Her favorite recollection is seeing her work on display at the Ward Six offices on First Street. The students' work was exhibited from Sept. 10 through Oct. 31 this year.

"Seeing everyone's reaction to my work was really cool. It made me feel really special," she says.

Hansen has witnessed the special effects the work has on the kids. "These kids' (life) stories are hard to believe. Their lives are difficult, at best. I had a girl come to class all hunched over and quiet. After 15 minutes in class, I could see the excitement in her eyes. It makes my hair stand up on my arms to see something like that. You see them become almost innocent again.

"With minimal effort, they get a positive response back. They take the picture with them. It's a treasure, and they get respect from it. Other kids say, 'Hey, that's neat.' The program provides a way to get respect in a positive way," he says.

Hansen receives respect from the kids themselves. "The kids are so grateful. They come up to me and say, 'I want to thank you for teaching me this.' It's unbelievable. I get more reward than anyone can imagine from this."

Hansen wants to expand La Paloma's program to include other art and pottery. He would also like to put together a curriculum for other agencies so more kids can benefit.

Hansen says that in the end, his students are just typical kids.

"When they have a chance to do something, they can produce the kind of (work) we are doing. They are human beings that can have a life. ... This type of program is a godsend to these kids. It can help a lot."

Eyes of Tomorrow, featuring the works of children enrolled in the Creative Photography Group of La Paloma Family Services, is on display through Wednesday, Jan. 30, on the second floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. The library can be reached at 791-4393.

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