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CMU students use smartphones to document the life of Beaver Island residents

Honors students snap 10,000 photos in 24 hours, capture island life

​F​​ifteen Central Michigan University students in the Honors Program recently spent a week on Beaver Island where they took a photography class documenting the life of local residents using only smartphones.

The unique assignment allowed the students, none of whom are art or photography majors, to learn that the act of capturing photos was more about the manner in which a tool was used and less about the actual tool itself.

"The local residents were definitely caught a bit off-guard when we would explain to them that we were taking a photography class and then pull out our phones to take a picture," said Mount Pleasant senior and music major Sean Bradley.

CMU photography professor Al Wildey taught the weeklong honors class, Mobile Photography with your Smartphone, and said that he wanted the students to learn how to tell effective narratives using basic observational skills.

"In order to take portraits, you have to gain trust, and in order to gain trust, you have to be able to talk to people, genuinely communicate with them, and put them at ease," Wildey said. "While exploring the life of the island through genres including landscape, portraiture and documentary photography, I wanted the students to learn to break the rules of composition and explore the use of photography in creating visual narratives."

According to CMU Honors Program director Phame Camarena, the class aligns with a key goal of the program, which is to have students think more critically about themselves and the diverse world in which they live.

"Professor Wildey's efforts to enhance students' visual literacy while they learned about the lives of island residents was an exceptional creative effort," Camarena said. "On a personal note, I was honestly stunned by the quality of images that the students captured using cellphone technology."

Students spent the first two days of the week talking to Beaver Island residents and making connections while shaping a plan for a 24-hour photo shoot midweek. Then they collectively captured 10,000 images of a variety of individuals including the baker, bartender, hairdresser, schoolteacher, toy store and museum shop owner, veterinarian, woodworker, and the island's only 100-year-old resident.

The last two days of the class were spent editing photos and selecting the 100 pictures to include in a slideshow overview of their work. Many students said it was an incredible experience to see the Beaver Island way of life through the eyes of those who live there year-round and from the perspective of smartphone photography.

"I was more aware of the type of pictures I was taking when I used my smartphone instead of a traditional camera because I found myself really trying to capture moments rather than just pictures," St. Ignace junior and health administration major Marina Brown said. "Meeting the people on Beaver Island was worth more than any lesson from a textbook. No other class has given me such an amazing opportunity."

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