When Michaela Blankenship first took a photography class, it didn’t capture her attention.
However, after transferring to Topeka High School, she signed up for Josh Davis’s photography class in her junior year. It clicked.
“I took the class because everyone said, ‘Get a class with Mr. Davis. You’ll have so much fun,’” Blankenship said. “At first, I was just doing it, but I really got into it about halfway through the semester. I came into class and said, ‘I had a coming-to-Jesus moment last night. I love photography!’ After that, I got really into it. My mom and I actually went out and bought me a camera and a studio set. I have all of this stuff for it. It’s what I do with all of my time.”
Starting Thursday, Blankenship will have one of her photographs displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City because of her participation in their Photography Scholars Program. Davis heard about the program at Washburn University’s Art Day, and he knew who should attend.
“I got online and looked it up, and I told Michaela about it because she’s one of my strongest photographers,” he said.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Photography Scholars Program is a way to introduce students to the professional artistic process. Participants work with the museum’s staff and an outside professional artist to create a body of work around a specific theme. They are required to complete weekly reading, research and photographic assignments, with the goal of developing a portfolio of images and creating a professional artistic statement.
The competition to be selected for the program is tough. Placement is limited and open to high schools surrounding Kansas City in both Kansas and Missouri. A student must be nominated by a teacher, and only two students per school are accepted. The reward is having one of their photographs exhibited at the Ford Learning Center galleries.
The theme for this year’s Photography Scholars Program was “There’s More Than One Way Home.” For eight Saturdays, starting in January, the students focused on how an artist goes about photographing a family, not only the ones they are born into, but also the ones they create for themselves.
The students worked with guest artist Troy Colby, a professional photographer from Lawrence. According to Colby’s website, his own work “explores the delicate balance of family, fatherhood and the outcome of the family photo album.”
Blankenship struggled a bit coming up with a way to photograph her family. Her parents divorced when she was in the fifth grade. Her father lives a good distance away, and her mom didn’t want to be photographed. She finally decided on illustrating divorce using a doll house.
“I was in this tough situation because I didn’t see the person who would probably let me take pictures of him, and my mom, I live with her and I didn’t have a chance to take pictures of her,” she said. “We were supposed to choose something a lot of people could relate to. I chose to show divorce because so many people can relate to it.”
Initially, Blankenship photographed the dollhouse with furniture strewn in the yard around it to illustrate the breakup of a family. However, as she took the photos, she began to play with images using just the dolls. That is how she created the one to exhibit, with a male and female doll walking away from each other.
“I love when it all comes together. The way you can change your photo. You can just do so many cool things with photography,” she said.
The opening reception for the There’s More Than One Way Home exhibit is Thursday. Parents, friends, and teachers are invited, and Blankenship’s photo will be on display until June 9.
Meanwhile, Blankenship has already completed the credits she needs for graduation and will walk with the other graduates in next month’s ceremony. She is working at Enterprise Bank in Lawrence and will attend the University of Kansas in the fall. Her major will be psychology, but she also will continue to take photography courses and take photos on the side.
“I struggle with having a meaning to my photos, but I feel that throughout the [Nelson-Atkins] course, I was able to put more meaning to my photos,” Blankenship said. “Now, when I look at my photos, of like a rose, I know what the meaning behind it is, where before I would look at it and think, ‘Oh, that’s a rose.’ ”