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Seven kids troop by, heads bobbing, like a gaggle of geese, following 18-year-old Tia Caesar to the Washington Center for Photography’s rear gallery. Caesar, wearing a ponytail and a tiny green leather backpack, proudly leads her charges—cousins and siblings among them—toward a color photograph she took.
Tia and 15 other teens are on hand this Thursday night at the 7th Street NW gallery for an exhibition of their photographs. They developed the images this summer during a six-week photography program that’s part of the D.C. Housing Authority’s Do Your BEST (Balancing Excellence Through Service and Training) Summer Youth Academy. The Street Vision program, as this segment is called, was proposed by Lars Torres and Heather Krebs of the local arts group CAVE (Center for Collaborative Art and Visual Education). Torres and Krebs simulated an office environment—complete with dress code and threats of layoffs—in which the students, who all live in D.C. public housing, learned desktop publishing, Adobe Photoshop, and digital photography.
Ve, who goes by his nickname instead of his given name, Navaro Trice, takes a break from munching on the cap of his pen. He’s a friendly, stout 16-year-old with cornrows, dressed in a black shirt and jeans. He escorts me to a photograph he’s taken on the sidewalk outside his home, the Atlantic Gardens project on Chesapeake Street SE: In the picture, his brother and some friends are bent over a game of craps, gray-green bills grouped in loose piles on the sidewalk. Behind them, folks sipping beers lean against a Chrysler. The camera’s flash hyper-illuminates the darkness like a scene from Cops, but no one seems to mind that Ve’s taking the photo. “Nobody trip off stuff like that,” Ve explains. “All of us are like family….They know I’m not trying to set them up.”
Behind Ve hovers Steven Edwards, a 17-year-old with long lashes and blue eyes who starts 10th grade at Anacostia High School this coming term. He shows me his self-portrait, Smooth Operator, in which he lounges in athletic wear looking placidly into the camera.
“I did a self-portrait because I’m a work of art,” Edwards explains, smiling broadly below his peach-fuzz mustache. He’s immersed in school endeavors like serving as drum major and choreographer for Anacostia’s band, and writing for the school paper. Edwards also has a significant client list for the hairdressing he does out of his home in the Highland Dwellings on Atlantic Street SE.
But apart from the hair-cutting business his neighborhood offers, he doesn’t much like living there. According to Edwards, crime in his project is on the rise, with 11 killings in the past two years. “That’s the most there’s ever been,” he says. But the violence doesn’t frighten him, he says, because it’s not nearby: “It’s down the alley, in the 600 block of Atlantic. I’m in the 700 block.”—Jessica Dawson