With a click, students capture neighborhood stories at MOCA institute

In a world where cell phones have cameras and digital cameras are worn as wrist accessories, everyone is a photographer.

But last month, a group of middle and high school students learned to shoot like the pros -- learning to tell stories through their lenses like photojournalists.

Inside North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a number of photographs line the wall, many of them showing snapshots from North Miami’s 125th Street Corridor, Wynwood and Miami Beach.

Through the museum's Summer Photography Journalism Institute, the young photographers pounded the pavement capture images of those neighborhoods.

On July 30, their work was on display for photography enthusiasts and family members to see.

A picture of a palm-lined walkway, with a trio of people silhouetted in the background, was shot on Miami Beach. Images showed bold, colorful graffiti gracing the walls of Wynwood. In North Miami, a newly opened tattoo parlor's chalkboard advertising was documented in a close-up shot.'

"Pictures start conversations,’’ said Billy Felix, 17, a North Miami High student whose pictures were on display. "Sometimes it’s hard to tell a story in words.’’

The summer institute also included a separate workshop for print journalism, which encouraged students to hone their writing and storytelling skills.

Twenty-five students participated in the photography workshop, where they explored the mechanical settings of their cameras, one of the most intimidating parts of the course, Felix said.

Their vocabulary now includes: aperture, ISO, shutter speeds and white balance.

"We wanted to give them a solid foundation of what it would be like to be a photojournalist,’’ said Noelle Theard, a professional photographer who taught the course.

Theard, whose photography has been exhibited in New York and Paris and has appeared in the Miami Herald, said she wanted to show her students how to depict an editorial story through a photograph.

"Photography is a different way of seeing the world,’’ she said.

Rachel Louis, 17, was strolling along 125 Street near Northeast Eighth Avenue in North Miami when she noticed a mother and her two young children at a bus stop.

"They were a beautiful family and the mom looked like she was so proud of her kids,’ Louis said.

Louis captured the trio in portrait.

"The picture," she said pointing to the portrait, "is a mother’s love.’’

Along the way, there were lessons learned.

"They went out into the communities and learned about the people and the culture," Bonnie Clearwater, director of MOCA, said.

Ana Lorda, a Hialeah native and participant of the workshop said her classmates' images unveiled a North Miami she didn't expect to find.

"I didn’t know North Miami was so culturally rich and diverse, all the shops and culture," she said. " It’s beautiful.’’