How do you see the world? Do you see the beauty in everyday life? When you look at an image, do you absorb it and gain a deeper understanding of what you are seeing? These concepts and more are the driving forces behind The Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County’s new art exhibit. The exhibit, titled Welcome To Our World: Visual Literacy and Collective Knowledge, feature 15 student-captured photos, on display in the Ringling Museum’s Community Gallery from May 4 to Aug. 2.

“For teenagers, it's not always easy to articulate how they're feeling,” says Robert Rogers, volunteer and community relations manager at The Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County. “They're growing and developing and learning and taking everything in. They’re figuring out how to process all the information that they’re confronted with. This project  grew out of that. We wanted to give them options for articulating their feelings and ways to process the information that's coming at them. That's why we started considering visual literacy and the concept of them understanding what they're seeing through these cameras.”

The photography club consisted of 10 members. And while most of them gained their first behind-the-camera experience through this project, this small group managed to capture an astounding 700 photographs over the course of the five-week program. Imagine how difficult it was to curate a collection of only 15 for the exhibit. 

This project, like many from The Boys and Girls Clubs, wouldn’t have been possible without the support and dedication of the club’s volunteers. For the photography club, this included professional photographer Alan Cresto.

“We always want the clubs to be educational opportunities for our members,” says Rogers. “Alan was able to help them explore the professional skill sets needed.”

And that was really all it took. Once the club members learned their way around the cameras, they were off—finding inspiration in everyday life and capturing images that spoke to them.

“They’re hungry to learn,” says Rogers. “They embraced the opportunity to share their voices and feelings and to articulate what they were experiencing using a different medium. These are just incredibly poetic images that capture those moments in such a truthful way.”

As much as this project was about photography and exploring the art form, at its core was the very basis of The Boys and Girls Clubs—community. “They found inspiration in one another,” recalls Rogers. “They fed off of each other. That's what it's all about.”

The Ringling Museum Community Gallery is located at 5401 Bay Shore Road on the first level of the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Center for Asian Art. Admission to the gallery is always free. For more information, visit Ringling Museum’s website.

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