“I hope that my work will encourage self-expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us.” – Ansel Adams

This year, I spent one of the school’s fall holidays with my four-year-old son, James ’30, having a “date day” at Gifford Pinchot State Park.  I try to schedule at least one day annually for each of my sons in which we spend one-on-one time engaging in an activity of their choosing.  James loves being outside and told me, without doubt, he wanted to spend the day hiking together.  We packed our lunch and gathered our gear:  a backpack, two pairs of hiking boots, a trail map, warm upper layers for this crisp fall day, and a digital camera.  After arriving at Pinchot Park, we picnicked on the lake shore, studied our map, and struck out westward on the trail.

Scenery and company would have been more than suitable to recharge both of us on this gorgeous day, but today, we had an additional purpose — we were in search of “Ansel Adams moments” to capture on-camera.  Why, you might ask?  Harrisburg Academy’s Junior Kindergarteners are each assigned an artist and asked to research their artist (with help from mom or dad) to then give a presentation to their classmates.  James’ artist was Ansel Adams, and we decided the best way to understand the mind and technique of this iconic American photographer and environmentalist was to capture our own nature photographs in his style.

What fun!  Along our four-mile, five-hour trek, we saw so much natural beauty punctuated with James’ periodic exclamation, “Ansel Adams moment!”  We’d stop, survey the scene, align the camera, and take the photo.  He was so proud of himself for using a “real” camera and taking gorgeous nature photos just like his artist.

A few minutes of Photoshop time together later that evening provided us with a wonderful gallery of black and white photographs, all with a fraction of the skill and effort Adams needed to capture his own photos.  Where Adams would hike miles into the backwoods of America’s great National Parks with bulky analog equipment, our small digital camera fit in our pocket.  While Adams spent hours carefully developing his images in a rudimentary darkroom, James and I spent mere minutes with a computer and Photoshop to make them perfect.  The marvels of modern technology did not escape either of us, and this project provided a wonderful opportunity for conversation on many levels.

I loved this day and this collaborative assignment with James.  I felt such gratefulness to be part of a school community that encourages partnerships between students, their parents, and their teachers in hands-on and meaningful projects such as this one.  Opportunities for authentic, experiential learning and genuine conversation are at the heart of the Academy’s mission, and this project will be documented forever in my son’s memory… and in black and white.

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.