By Ron VandenBoom
Tell Jennie Peterson, a barely five-foot tall Havre High School senior, that photographs she will soon be taking might be part of an exhibit that will show in New York or even Germany and she's ready to dance.
"That would make me the happiest person ever," she said, when she first heard the news. "That would be so exciting."
Peterson is just one of five students currently enrolled in Photography: An Image of Each Other an H. Earl Clack Museum photography project that is trying to use the art of taking pictures to introduce students to the diverse cultural wonders that exist in Havre and on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
"I think the cultural aspects of the program are really neat," Peterson said.
hn Well-Off-Man started the programs first class about three weeks ago with mostly donated equipment and only a few interested students.
Each student submitted a letter explaining why they wanted to be part of the program and what it was they hoped to get out of the program. They were selected based on the contents of their letters.
"I was pretty impress with the things the students wrote in their letter," Well-Off-Man said. "Especially that they understood what the project was all about. There's a humanities aspect to the program that we are trying to get them to understand."
Peterson said she understands the cultural aspects and is looking forward to her first trip out to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, but as the newest member of the class she has yet to make the trip.
Lindsey Schumacher has already been to Rocky Boy's once and said the cross-cultural aspects of the program are part of what sparked her interest.
"I thought maybe it would be interesting to learn more about the Native American culture," she said. "That's what the program is designed kinda to do."
Schumacher's first trip wasn't terribly eventful. Well-Off-Man had told her to take some pictures of the school buildings on the Reservation, so that's what she did. There were no live subjects or colorful Pow Wow costumes on this trip.
But that's OK, Well-Off-Man said, noting that he has already made contact with several elders on the reservation and several have already agreed to sit for pictures and maybe even tell the young photographers some stories.
Right now Well-off-Man is dedicating most of his time to teaching the students the basics of photography.
"First I want them to get a real good understanding of how the process works," he said. "Then we'll start increasing the level."
Well-Off-Man has the students meet on Sunday from 1-4 p.m. in the photo lab in the basement of the Heritage Center and then again on Mondays from 6:30-9 p.m.
He is currently teaching subjects like, how to load reals, process film, mix chemicals, and develop prints a list of technical basics that Peterson said makes her feel "kind of like a mad scientist, mixing all the chemicals and stuff."
"I've learned that it's much more technical then it is artistic," she said, explaining that first you have to learn all the technical stuff "before you get to play with it and create your own stuff."
Schumacher, too, said she has learned a lot about the basics including how to identify good pictures and also some photographic techniques.
Dave Martens, the only man currently in the program, has also learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography, but for him, that's all part of the fun.
"It's just getting going, but so far it's really cool," he said. "It's fun for me and another choice, I guess."
By another choice, Martens means future career potential. While he has no specific plans to become a professional photographer, he does consider it to be an option.
Career potential is also a consideration of Peterson's. She wants to be a commercial artist and feels photography is one part of that equation.
"So all the background I can get, including photography ... I figure would help," she said.
Peterson sees potential in photography because she would love, she said, to be able to travel to different places and learn about different people while at the same time documenting it.
"I would love to work for National Geographic," she said.
Career potential is not the major focus of the program to Well-Off-Man, but confidence certainly is and he hopes the students will get a point where they will be capable of taking his place.
"The purpose of the program, Well-Off-Man said, is to get the students to the point where they are confident enough to feel they can do anything they want."
As Well-Off-Man leads the students step by step through the process, he hopes they will each develop a portfolio of about 10 of their best pictures. These will then be exhibited during the month of May in the H. Earl Clack Art Gallery at the Heritage Center.
Contacts Well-Off-Man has in New York and in Germany have also discussed the possibility of additional shows.
But first Well-Off-Man wants to finish outfitting the classroom and photo lab that has been donated for the project by the H. Earl Clack Museum Foundation.
Well-Off-Man still needs some tables, chairs, counters, and lockers to hang film in. He is also still looking for donations of any photo supplies.
"It's a really good cause and it's something that I see as very positive," he said.
All donations are tax deductible and can be donated by contacting Donna McGregor, curator of the H. Earl Clack Museum.
Well-Off-Man said cash is also acceptable as a donation and is impressed that many people and businesses have already made donations.
Money for the project has also been received from grants and from The National Endowment for the Humanities.
"I've been getting a lot of good feedback from people all around the state," he said.
Well-Off-Man is still looking to recruit about five students from Rocky Boy's to join the project, but he said he would like to finish furnishing the lab and classroom before adding any more students and making the lab any more crowded.
"But all I see is a bunch of kids having lots of fun," he said. "I tell them not to feel pressured. The best way to learn is to have fun and that won't happen if they feel a lot of pressure."
Schumacher said she prefers learning about photography in this program to the photography program she's taking at Havre High School.
The high school program is new and has a lot more students, she said.
"It's a lot easier here cause there are fewer people," she said. "I feel there are too many students there to really learn how to do it the proper way."
Schumacher said she feels Well-Off-Man is a really good teacher and is excited about the prospect of working with the students from Rocky Boy's
"I just think it's a really neat program that they have here and I'm really happy that they're offering it," said Schumacher.