Capturing Camas

Photography students from the Washington State School for the Blind explore Round Lake, downtown core

A photo by student Husai Sanchez.

John Bannan, a volunteer at the Washington State School for the Blind (left), talks about photo opportunities with 17-year-old student Husai Sanchez (right) outside Lutz Hardware in downtown Camas on March 11.

A photo by student Jaymes Gummerie.

Nolan Schaffer, 17, an 11th-grader at the Washington State School for the Blind, takes a photo in downtown Camas on March 11.

A photo by student Fenix Roark.

A photo by student Inara McNew.

Washington State School for the Blind sixth-grader Jayme Gummerie, 12, takes a photo in downtown Camas on March 11.

A photo by student Tori Eastman.

Fenix Roark, 15, an eighth-grader at the School for the Blind in Vancouver (front) takes a photo of a bird sculpture in downtown Camas on March 11, while his classmates, Inara McNew, 13 (left), and Nolan Schaffer, 17 (second from left) and their volunteer adult companions explore the corner for more photo opportunities.

A photo by student Nolan Schaffer.

With its picturesque downtown streets, beautiful Lacamas and Round lakes and proximity to the Columbia River National Gorge Scenic Area, Camas is often a ‘must visit’ for photographers and artists looking to capture the feeling of small town Pacific Northwest.

So when a group of photography students decided to visit downtown Camas and Round Lake recently, it wasn’t so much the ‘where’ that made their story unique, but the ‘who.’

Like all students at the Washington State School for the Blind, the young photographers had various degrees of visual impairments.

“We lend our eyes to them, to help the students interpret a world that isn’t so visually literate to them,” said photography teacher Gary Scott.

A professional photographer who earned his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1982 and went on to cover photojournalism assignments in more than 40 countries, worked as a combat photographer for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, and work in corporate sales and marketing for photo industry giants like Leica Cameras and Fuji Photo Film USA, Scott has been volunteering as an after-school photography teacher at the School for the Blind since 2011.

Working with the students, many of whom are completely blind, has helped Scott reconsider what it means to capture an image.

“Allowing these students to share with us visuals that are either in their mind’s eye or from their limited visual perspective is a joy,” Scott said.

The photography teacher and other adults from the school lead the students to on-site shoots at places like the Vancouver waterfront and, most recently, to downtown Camas, where they help the students picture the scenes around them inside their minds.

The students also used their sense of touch to feel the shapes of the world around them. For instance, during the March 11 excursion to downtown Camas, 15-year-old Fenix Roark, an eighth-grader at the School for the Blind in Vancouver, used his hands to explore a sculpture of a young girl in front of the Lizzabeth A store at the corner of Northeast Cedar Street and Northeast Fourth Avenue before photographing the scene.

“The art here is beautiful,” Roark said before running over to the sculpture to touch the facial features again. “I like her face.”

Some of the School for the Blind students, such as 12-year-old Jaymes Gummerie, are not completely blind. In his quest for cool photos in downtown Camas, Gummerie said he was gravitating toward bright, contrasting colors. He found them on the red doors outside the Liberty Theatre and in the vibrant patio furniture in front of Cake Happy.

Scott said he teaches the students photography basics and then lets them discover interesting photo opportunities in places like downtown Camas and Round Lake.

“They use their senses to get an image that’s based on what they’re feeling,” Scott said. “They rent our eyes.”

During the trip to downtown Camas, the students searched for images that represented their own personalities.

Inara McNew, 13, for instance, said she prefers photographing nature scenes over cityscapes, but that she had been able to find a few flowers to shoot in Camas’ downtown core.

“My favorites are roses and purple lilies,” McNew said.

For 17-year-old Husai Sanchez, a musician and weightlifting champion who broke two world records at a the 2016 World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters’ World Championships, the photography class represents his first attempt to capture the world he feels but cannot see in images that sighted people can examine.

On March 11, Sanchez gravitated toward some of downtown Camas’ visual arts elements, including the cats painted on the outside of the Lutz Hardware store and the fountain on the corner of Northeast Cedar Street and Northeast Fourth Avenue.

Volunteer John Bannan, who has worked with students from the School for the Blind for 12 years, accompanied Sanchez through downtown Camas, describing various scenes, positioning the camera and guiding Sanchez’ hand to the camera’s buttons.

Another first-time photographer, Nolan Schaffer, 17, said he thought he would enjoy capturing sports photos but that he had found all three outings — to the Vancouver waterfront, Round Lake and downtown Camas — fun and full of photo opportunities.

“I like it here,” Schaffer said. “There are a lot of good signs in Camas.”

Tori Eastman, 12, a sixth-grader at the school, had a blast roaming through Camas’ downtown streets and had found at least a dozen spots to shoot by the time she met up with her classmates near the Camas Hotel.

“It’s really cool,” Eastman said. “I liked the lake, too, but it was really cold that day. We were freezing.”

After the students have taken their photos, Scott and the other adult volunteers view the photos and describe the scenes the students captured.

“The result is a collaborative Image that they can share with us,” Scott said. “Many of these images equal that of the finest amateur photographers.”

The students will have a showing of their photographs in April at Vancouver City Hall, and are in discussions with staff at the Camas Public Library about a possible art show there in May.