By Dylan Deprey
In the age of the selfie, it seems like everybody is taking pictures of themselves nowadays. For kids, in the inner city, the idea of getting a camera or smartphone can be a little out of reach. The idea of becoming a professional photographer is completely unobtainable.
While working on his nationally recognized multicultural 100 Womxn photo exhibition, Corey Fells reached out to photographers, both older and younger, for help.
“As I’m doing this, I’m understanding that there is no sense of mentorship here in Milwaukee, and I asked myself, ‘Why?’” Fells said. “That was because there was no actual culture cultivating in photography here.”
Fells aimed to bridge the generational and economic gaps in Milwaukee’s photography culture with his monthly photography event, Lenses for Kids. The first program took on the Milwaukee Art Museum July 7, 2017.
Twenty local photographers partnered with inner-city youth to teach the basics of taking professional photography. Kids as young as seven years old were learning how to zoom, focus, frame and capture some of Milwaukee’s finest art.
Fells partnered with Northwestern Mutual, North American Cameras, Ian’s Pizza and Milwaukee Illgrammers for the event.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about this too much,” He said. “I just thought about the need for a community. What I’m doing is cool, but how much of an impact is it making on the bigger picture?”
Fells posted on Facebook about building a community, and it was a shared around 59 times. He went a little further and created an EventBrite online sign up and the seats were filled within a week.
Fells said a mother had messaged him and said it was her daughter’s birthday. She said her daughter was extremely into photography, but she was not able to afford a (Digital single-lens reflex) DSLR camera.
“We got into a private room at the Milwaukee Art Museum for the event and she did not want to put that camera down,” Fells said. “She took photos of everything she saw, and the photographer that was with her actually told me that she used 6gb of memory worth of photos.”
It is with moments like this that Fells hopes Lenses for Kids will strengthen the generational bond in the photography community.
“With photography being more popular now, why not bridge the gap in this city and build a culture. Because Chicago has that, and New York has that, so why not Milwaukee?”
As for the next Lenses for Kids event, Fells wants to add a little more skill based learning to the mix. So, the kids will learn how work with and frame shots with models overlooking Lake Michigan at the beautiful Villa Terrace on Milwaukee’s East side.
Though he doesn’t know if Lenses for Kids will become a Summer program, or a traveling program for public schools, he does know that he will continue the program as long as his passion for photography burns bright.
“I want the craft that I love so much to continue on in Milwaukee, and I want kids to be able to be photographers for Vogue and Dior or Nike or whatever the case may be. I want to bridge that gap, they have to know that photography is not so far out in the distance that you can’t obtain it,” Fells said.