February 22, 2018 | Hannah Ebeling

Calvin senior Lynn Park is one of the students who provided photography for the hallways at Samaritas.

“I think the ability to take what you are learning in an academic setting and translate that to a real-world situation is such a helpful process,” said Jennifer Hoag, professor of photography. “You have to really think about what is needed and break down the criteria to be successful.”

Last fall, an intermediate digital photography class was given the opportunity to do just that.

Samaritas, a faith-based senior living home, approached Hoag because they wanted some new artwork for the walls in their memory-care unit that caters to residents in varying stages of dementia. Hoag visited their facility over the summer, and since everything looks similar, she said it was even tricky for her to navigate.

Art to help memory-care residents

“What Samaritas hoped for were images that could help their residents navigate the hallways,” said Hoag. “I thought it sounded like a really interesting project for students to think about the function of their photographs rather than thinking of them strictly as art.”

In groups of four and five, students came up with a theme for each of the facility’s hallways. “Students each approached the project in a very different way,” said Hoag. “Some groups decided they would get together and photograph with each other. Others worked more independently, but together decided how they wanted their photographs to look stylistically and went about it that way.”

This opportunity would act as the students’ final in the class. Hoag said she was not sure how the project would be received, but the students loved the idea right from the very start. They appreciated being able to serve in this way and have their work displayed in a setting, while being useful.

"I think the experience gave me a good chance to put into practice all of the things we had been learning in class, and with practice comes improvement," said photography student, Marisa Seifert. "I think it is so important for students to gain this real-world experience and to engage in the community, not only for the personal benefit of experience, but also to benefit those around us who may be in need of certain services or skills. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us."

Students put a lot into this project, said Hoag. Many bought their own props and went as far as baking and decorating a whole cake for the perfect shot. “A group of students even got together to make breakfast for their breakfast-themed collection,” she said. Samaritas plans to put these down the hallway that leads to the dining area. 

"My favorite part about this project was seeing how my classmates interpreted the assignment in a different way than me," said Seifert. "All of the photos were unique and beautiful in their own way."

Students use what they learn to serve

The staff from Samaritas was very involved in the process and came to talk to the class. “The aging process can often affect the eyes, so they helped us understand which colors to avoid,” said Hoag. “We chose to use brighter colors within a certain spectrum.”

Once the photos were printed a representative from Samaritas joined the class for their final evaluation and critique. “She was able to walk around and see all the images that were made,” said Hoag. “She was really pleased with what the students came up with and already started talking about doing this again for another section of their facility.”

“It’s not often that I get to incorporate a service-learning aspect into the class,” said Hoag. “A lot of the photo assignments are very conceptually and technically driven and are not very collaborative. I loved the idea of having a collaborative project incorporated in the class and at the same time have students think about the function of the project.”

The 24 large prints of the students’ work will be mounted and hung at Samaritas Senior Living Home at the end of February.

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