If there’s one person that Oceanside High School photography teacher Nanci Nigro would bring in to co-teach a class, it would be America’s Next Top Model Nigel Barker. We recently caught up Nanci and one of her advanced photography students, Katlyn Cruz, whose digital print Twilight won a national Gold Medal in this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Senior Katlyn Cruz is deaf and communicates in class with the help of an American Sign Language interpreter.
AYAW: So, given the chance, you’d invite Nigel Barker to teach one of your classes for a day. Seriously?
Nanci: I’ve been teaching photography for the past 15 years. While I'm tempted to respond with something totally cliché, I'll go with the truth: Nigel Barker. My students would freak! But seriously…I have the most amazing job that anyone could wish for. I have the opportunity to work with creative minds that constantly seek change and new ideas. My students range in abilities and teaching is exciting and challenging at every level.
AYAW: What inspires each of you? Are there any events, people or feelings in your life that inspire your artwork?
Katlyn: When I was a little, I’d draw anything that was on my mind. My mother bought the art supplies; she knew I’d need them. My skills improved over the years and one day I heard about Photoshop and photography from one of my friends. I thought, why not try it? Oceanside High has digital photo classes and I wanted to learn more. So I took these classes and started to improve. Dave Hill is also one of my biggest idols because his works are so amazing. I’ve learned a lot from his work, like how it works to take the right position of pictures. I also show my work to my teacher and interpreter for their feedback. I’m lucky to have them.
Nanci: In addition to teaching, I run a photo studio in Long Island City, New York. Working as an artist keeps me on top of new trends and technologies. It's important to me that I create my own work and also maintain a connection to the field.
AYAW: Can you both tell us a little bit about the process of creating the Award-winning piece Twilight?
Nanci: I did work with Katlyn on her Award-winning piece, which was part of a series of self-portraits and double exposures. But the creation was all Katlyn and, upon seeing the final image, I was blown away with the result.
Katlyn: I originally created another picture for the assignment, but at the last minute I took pictures of New York City and a few days later I took pictures of myself on slow shutter. I combined both and created the smoky effects using Photoshop brushes. I worked and reworked it several times – the winning image was my third attempt.
AYAW: Do you see any challenges to being a teen artist today? Or do you think the experience of being a teenager has changed over the last several years?
Katlyn: There have been several challenges for me as a typical teenager that involve friends and clichés. Luckily for me, I’ve focused on my work and creativity because it’s what I love to do. Photography and art is my gift; it’s in my blood.
Nanci: Society has changed! Growing up in a world of instant everything makes for a different type of generation. However, the core of teenage life is still relatively the same. Creating an identity, fitting in, falling in love – it's all the same, just posted on Facebook.
AYAW: Katlyn, has receiving recognition and/or a scholarship from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers changed your future plans in any way? How so?
Katlyn: Yes, let me tell you a small story. I received a big white packet from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers that said: “Open immediately!” The letter said that I had won a national Gold Medal for Twilight. I was so excited that I called my ASL interpreter! It did change my future plans because I figured out what I want for my career and my future. I‘m proud of myself for all the hard work. My artwork is my life and my future.
Photo credit: Twilight. Katlyn Cruz. Gold Medal, Digital Art. 2010 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.