Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Homewood photographer pays forward his skills in free 10-week session for teenagers
March 6, 2017 12:00 AM
Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette
Ahmad Sandidge, left, shows Jalen Cruz how to set the exposure on his camera.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Each Tuesday after school lets out, Ahmad Sandidge welcomes a gaggle of teenagers into his Homewood photography studio. The numbers vary; his goal is 10. He is offering them 10 weeks of instruction free of charge.
An accomplished fashion and portrait photographer, Mr. Sandidge said he kept getting inquiries about teaching children.
“I have had lots of folks ask if I would teach a photography class and I have said no — too much time and trouble,” he said.
But he changed his mind after an encounter with a street person. Mr. Sandidge said he started thinking that maybe, had someone inspired that man when he was a boy, his trajectory might have changed.
Photo classes abound throughout the city — at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Silver Eye Center for Photography, to name a few. The Guild has a special program that offers classes free to Pittsburgh Public School students.
Most photo classes come with a fee, as would be expected, and not every kid has $50 for two hours or $300 for a series of classes. Most don’t have access to real cameras — those you have to learn how to operate, the machines of professionals, with buttons, wheels and settings.
At Sandidge Photography on Homewood Avenue, youths are learning about shutter speed, aperture, how to capture movement, how to frame a shot, how and when to use natural light, how to set up portraits and how to train their eyes to see what’s interesting.
That last point might seem obvious, but people walk past interesting scenes all the time, maybe noticing them, maybe not.
I have worked with enough photographers over the years to know that when they dart off or hit the ground or knock over a chair to get across a room, they have anticipated such a scene and usually capture it.
Photography is like any art form in that most can become adept by learning, some can become exceptional by learning, while a few use learning to reveal a gift. Mr. Sandidge is giving youths a chance to become adept or exceptional or to know whether they have a gift.
“The goal is to give kids a real, professional experience,” he said. “At the end of the classes, I want them to have a big print, 20-by-30. They’ll pay for that [about $50] and I’ll pay for the rest, the framing. And we’ll have a gallery show for their friends and parents” on May 6.
For one assignment, the students were to find a photo with a flaw. Jalen Cruz said he Googled “bad photos.” One he found showed a woman whose forearm appears unattached to her upper arm because her hair flung sideways hides her elbow.
The photos the students chose were ones they described as not normal, not natural. Mr. Sandidge gently diverted them from such thinking.
In one photo, a man is walking down a street wearing nothing but a Speedo bikini.
“If he was walking by in a business suit, the photo would be normal but it would not be interesting,” Mr. Sandidge said. “What’s interesting about that photo is the expressions on the faces of the women passing him.”
He hitched himself onto a stool and sat still with a passive expression.
“Is this natural?” he asked them. “Do I look natural?”
The students said he did.
He hopped down, leaned into the seat of the stool, propped one arm on the back and made a confrontational face.
“What about now?” he asked. “Which is the more interesting pose?”
The students agreed the second was the more interesting.
“Angles are more interesting,” he said. “Your job as an artist is to do what?”
“Be interesting,” Jeffrey Bridgett said.
“No one is going to hire you because you have technical expertise,” which is necessary, Mr. Sandidge said. “They’re going to hire you for your creativity.”
Mr. Sandidge took up photography at age 30, attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. He worked his way up doing grunt work for little pay. The reward at the end was to work as a professional. Teaching seemed like a concession.
“But one morning, when I was walking my dog, this guy who calls me Dad and hits me up for money stopped me,” he said. “I gave him a dollar and he went on. Then it hit me: I have a skill I could expose other people to. You never know how one’s life might affect another’s.
“For these kids to see me in a nice studio in Homewood could expand their horizons.”
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
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