There’s always more, it’s never just a blank canvas-a reflection by Brittain Hughes

On the third day of the Song of Myself camp, I arrived at an unfamiliar school in an unfamiliar location feeling a bit lost and behind the game, as I had not had the chance to visit the school yet as most of my classmates had. I was nervous going into the camp because I did not know how to best advise the students on how to express specific ideas from Walt Whitman’s poem. However, I was very excited to get to know the students and see what work would be made.

Exploring the Eno
I spent my first day with the students at the Eno River. Because I did not know any of the kids, I was thankful when groups were assigned rather than chosen by the students. One of my classmates and I were paired with a girl named Tobiah. We got the Whitman verse Katie chose for her and began to brainstorm ideas. She was so eager to do the assignment, and to do it well, that we immediately started taking pictures, lagging behind most of the groups who set off for the river. Tobiah was full of creative interpretations and was very receptive to alternative perspectives of her original ideas.

We took pictures of everything from rocks to trees to leaves to bridges to each other to ourselves. Seeing her so engaged in the assignment encouraged me to start taking pictures on my phone and really get into it all. Later, she got me to take some pictures on the camera of her posing, which was very enjoyable because I felt like I lent a hand in sharing her perspective with others. Through this project, I was really able to observe and be inspired by Tobiah’s ambition and interest as she dissected the poem in a way that I would have never thought of, discovering a variety of different messages and meanings out of it than I was.

Tobiah and I worked on finding new angles and perspectives on our subject.

Brainstorming new ideas on how to depict the Song of Myself excerpt.

I took photographs from the bridge of Tobiah posing on a rock in the middle of the Eno River below.

An Illustration of Tobiah
Out of it all, my favorite part of this camp was watching Tobiah work on her self-portrait collage. I went in to work with the students the day after our field trip to the Eno, and Tobiah had already started to work on her self-portrait, which was a close up that I had taken of her face during our field trip. I watched her as she seemed to be finishing up her project and it was wonderful—she had several newspaper clippings glued onto the pictures and she had written about eight adjectives on her face that describe her and who she is. The amazing part is that about every minute after we both thought she was pretty much finished, Tobiah would come up with one or two more words she wanted to include, and she would add them to the picture. By the end of the day, she had covered her entire face with words that very uniquely described her. What I find admirable about this project and about her approach to it was that she thought she had shared everything she wanted to, however she had so much more to add that she did not realize at first, showing just how many facets and sides there are to her, as well as to all of us.

Tobiah illustrates that she is anything but a ‘blank canvas.’

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