Free program gives students hands-on experience with cameras they can keep

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CHICAGO — A retired teacher took her love of photography and turned it into an incredible opportunity for dozens of CPS students.

“I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to do this with kids who might not be able to afford the expensive equipment and expensive classes?'” said Shirley Nannini.

That was a year and a half ago, and the beginning of the free photography program called ‘Fresh Lens Chicago’. Working with just 12 students at a time, Nannini and instructor Denise Orlin teach the kids everything they can squeeze in over a seven week course.

They aren’t paid for the work. In fact everything, right down to the high-end cameras the kids learn on, was donated.

“When I told people this idea, I had just over $8,000 donated in three weeks; enough to buy 12 cameras,” Nannini said.

Kids get to keep the cameras once the course is over.

“It is amazing, everything they’ve done for us,” student Emily Reyes said. “It is a gift to be able to see the world differently through a camera lens. To see true beauty in things you wouldn’t normally.”

By the end of the two-month course, the teens’ work is so advanced it gets hung in top galleries around Chicago.

“They will blow your mind. Their ability, their potential…it’s all just been very exciting,” Nannini said.

Community members can also support the students through donation of photography equipment or money.


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