CONWAY — Sergio Rincon, a Conway teenager, said the cellphone photo he took of a sunrise on Petit Jean Mountain during a class through CoHO Academy was his favorite.
“That was by far my best experience,” the 15-year-old said.
Sergio is one of 10 students whose photography will be on display at the Photos 4 Hope exhibit Monday through June 10 at UCA Downtown, 1105 W. Oak St. in Conway. All the students’ photographs were taken with cellphones or tablets. Artwork will be on display from CoHO students as well.
The event will culminate with a reception and auction of the students’ work at 6:30 p.m. June 10. The suggested donation for admission is $10. Appetizers will be provided, and the public will get to meet the student photographers and artists.
City of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit ministry, operates in Brookside Village and Oakwood Village mobile-home parks, as well as in the community of South Ash Street, all in Conway. CoHO Academy offers after-school classes and tutoring for students in those neighborhoods.
Phillip Fletcher, founder and executive director of CoHO, said the photography class was a partnership among the nonprofit organization; AT&T, which loaned students cellphones and a tablet; and Arkansas Mobile Photographers, or ArkMoPhs.
Fletcher said Tommy Wallace of Conway, the founder of ArkMoPhs, approached him with the idea.
“He had been a volunteer partner with us for a while. He had come to us asking about, ‘What do you think about the kids learning photography with phones and tablets?’ More kids are taking pictures with phones … rather than traditional cameras,” Fletcher said.
Photography was an elective that CoHO Academy students could take. The students were taught how to take and edit photos.
Wallace, an associate pastor at Family Life Bible Church in Conway, said ArkMoPhs was formed about 2 1/2 years ago. He was familiar with the CoHO ministry.
“I’d had this kind of dream of wanting to use phone photography to connect with kids and develop their artistic talents and, at the same time, to use that as a bridge to teach them about spiritual truths and things about that as well,” he said. “I try to do a spiritual lesson or Bible lesson every time that we meet.”
Wallace said he taught the photography classes with the help of about five other Family Bible Church members. He said the students went on several field trips, including one to Petit Jean Mountain.
“That was a good trip, even though they had to get up at 5 a.m.,” he said.
The students also went to an old abandoned school, and to the Clinton Presidential Center Park and the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, Wallace said.
“This thing, I like to say it’s been a worldwide effort, because I got an international group of photographers to select which photos were going to be displayed,” he said.
Fletcher said the class was about more than students learning a hobby.
“Kids are exposed to a different career opportunity, something you don’t think about when you’re carrying the phone in your pocket. They could be a photojournalist, a wedding photographer,” Fletcher said.
He said two semesters of the classes have been offered, first at Brookside, then at Oakwood.
“They did field trips to Petit Jean to take pictures, around their community, then around the city of Conway,” Fletcher said. “The pictures turned out pretty good; I’m very pleased with them. I was telling Tommy, ‘I can’t believe some of these pictures were taken with phones.’”
Sergio said he took the class because he likes to learn new skills.
“It was pretty fun,” he said. “I learned that taking pictures isn’t just about taking them because you’re at the right time and the right place. It’s about everything that goes into a picture, because sometimes the pictures are too light or too dark, and sometimes you have to edit them by computer. I’m still learning.”
Sergio said his 12-year-old brother, Poldo, also took the class and has work that will be displayed at Photos 4 Hope.
Fantasia Patton, 11, who lives in Oakwood Village, said she loved the photography class.
“It was so fun that we got to go experience the Arkansas bridge and see the river and things and take pictures; then he (Wallace) took us out to eat,” she said.
Fantasia said the trip to the Clinton Presidential Center Park in Little Rock was her favorite.
“I liked it because I’d never been on top of the bridge like that, and I got to see the river and a lot of the water,” she said.
She is excited about the exhibit. “My favorite picture — we walked around the neighborhood — I took a picture of a little puppy dog,” she said.
Fletcher said the event’s proceeds will go toward CoHO Academy, and possibly a portion to the students.
“We’re working on that. Somehow, I’ve got to stimulate entrepreneurship,” he said.
Fletcher said the photography class will be offered again through CoHO Academy.
“We just want to build on it in the coming year,” he said.
Fantasia said she would like to take the class “again and again,” and Sergio echoed that sentiment and gave a plug for the class.
“I think more people need to join the class because it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.