Fresh Eyes

A 14-year-old photographer trains his camera on Midtown.

click to enlarge MENTOR'S VIEW: A photo of Marion Wolfe taken by his photo tutor Beth Reynolds during the opening at Studio@620 of "Midtown Through Our Eyes." - Beth Reynolds
Beth Reynolds
MENTOR'S VIEW: A photo of Marion Wolfe taken by his photo tutor Beth Reynolds during the opening at [email protected] of "Midtown Through Our Eyes."

Marion Wolfe's "Little Men" is not so little. One of the largest student photos on display recently at [email protected], it dominated the St. Petersburg gallery's east wall.

But its impact isn't just about size. A photo of five African-American boys playing in a toy car at a daycare center playground, "Little Men" is rich in color and personality. Though Wolfe is only 14 years old, he's clearly got a knack for this photography thing.

Ask Marion (pronounced Mari-ON) what he thinks of his photo, and he'll mostly talk about technical issues. He had to take "five or six shots" to get it right, he says: "I had to move around a lot because they were moving around a lot." He's not even sure he likes the composition: "I would have centered the children better."

Nevertheless, "Little Men" and several other photos by Wolfe were among the standouts in Midtown Through Our Eyes — an exhibit of work by students at St. Petersburg journalism magnet schools Melrose Elementary and John Hopkins Middle School who this summer took part in an 11-day journalism camp. The show reopens Oct. 29 at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport and Eckerd College's Lewis Hall, with half of the photos in one space and half in the other. (In January, many of the pieces will be moved to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.) The students' work is also on view in their free and locally distributed newspaper, Midtown Magazine.

"He's a mindful photographer," says Beth Reynolds of Wolfe. A professional photographer herself, Reynolds volunteered at the journalism camp. "He takes fewer pictures than other students because he thinks so much about what he wants to shoot."

Reynolds says she can go anywhere with Wolfe, and he will take a meaningful picture. "He sees in a different way than the other students."

Wolfe's description of his technique is simple but eloquent:

"I look for a shot that nobody thought of taking, or a different point of view."

During an opening reception for the show at [email protected], his point of view was clearly winning fans. Two Pinellas County school administrators, Charlene Einsel and Elaine Ranieri, made a point of seeking him out to say how much they liked "Little Men."

"We pick our favorite picture every year," said Einsel, "and this year we picked yours. Someday we'll be glad to say we shook your hand. ... we are glad to say that now."

Wolfe's mother, Karen Wolfe, is the director of Starling Day Care Center, where he shot his much-discussed photo. She says that his participation in the camp has helped her see her surroundings in a new way.

"By being in the camp, he exposed me to different areas that are in Midtown that I wasn't really aware of."

Marion, too, has discovered new ways to look at his neighborhood. "Growing up, you see Midtown as one thing," he says. "Then you visit the places you normally just pass by."

Volunteer instructor Reynolds marvels at how well the students convey the different facets of the area. "The photography this year is so rich and layered," she says. "The kids are really getting to know their neighborhood."

Wolfe's grandmother, Carolyn Cloud, grew up in Midtown. The daycare center's administrator, she says it's nice to see all the local, long-lasting businesses represented in the exhibit. She sees "Little Men" as a promise for the future.

"It really captured the students of Starling Day Care, and when I think about giving African-American men a good start, I feel like it starts with that photograph. Happy children grow into productive adults."

Still, it's not Marion's favorite; he likes his photograph of a guitar at Bringe Music Center. He's always wanted to learn to play the guitar. He also says he'd like to work in musical theater or as a movie director.

Wolfe won't be attending the camp next summer, now that he's a freshman at Gibbs High School/Pinellas County Center for the Arts. But he's not giving up photography: He's trying to convince Cynda Mort to start another journalism program — one for high-school students.

"Maybe a Downtown magazine," he suggests. After all, he spent two years learning about Midtown; it's time to conquer a whole new neighborhood.

Katherine Clement is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. David Warner and the Neighborhood News Bureau's Monique Fields assisted with this story.

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