Bellaire High School Students Unveil ‘All-American Town’ Photography Project

Photo by Shelley Hanson Bellaire High School art students who took photographs for “The All American Town” photography magazine project pose with copies of the book during its unveiling at the school on Friday. Front row, from left, are art teacher Megan Ritchea, Kyli McMahon, Abby Garner, Brittney Beckett, Lindsay Hess and Jessica Rosen; middle row, from left, Brittany Falcone, Cierra McCorkle, Nicole McCorkle, Brooklyn Dyer and photographer Rebecca Kiger of Wheeling, who was the director of the program; back row, from left, Gavin Howard, Kaleb Hicks, Michaela Flaherty, Andi Perrie, Daniel Lednik and Tre Carter.

Bellaire High School photography students on Friday unveiled “The All-American Town” — a collection of photographs they took during the past year that represent their lives, homes, the village as they see it and more.

The magazine was made possible by a collaboration between the Rural Arts Collaborative, Oglebay Institute, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and EQT Corp. The students were guided during the process by Wheeling-based photographer Rebecca Kiger, artist in residence, and their art teacher, Megan Ritchea.

During the past year, the 16 students took thousands of photographs using digital cameras or via digital cameras on their smart phones. From those many photographs, 450 were chosen to be submitted to Judy Walgren, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, who chose the final 60 images for the book.

During the unveiling, many of the images that did not make it into the book were displayed as well, printed on large sheets of paper and hung around the school’s gym. The rest of the school’s students, teachers and some parents perused the collection during the event.

Principal Derrick McAfee said he was proud of the students and the work they did.

“This partnership is awesome,” McAffee noted. “The kids and the teachers can’t say enough good about it. It just goes to show what can happen when you support art in public schools. Great things are happening at Bellaire High School.”

Bellaire High was chosen for the project because EQT wanted a Belmont County school to be involved. Kiger also is familiar with Bellaire because her daughter attends dance school there. And the school, she said, already had a film photography class in place.

The students are selling the magazines and get to keep the proceeds. About 500 copies were printed.

Ritchea said the project was a great opportunity for the students, who include Kyli McMahon, Abby Garner, Brittney Beckett, Lindsay Hess, Jessica Rosen, Brittany Falcone, Cierra McCorkle, Nicole McCorkle, Brooklyn Dyer, Gavin Howard, Kaleb Hicks, Michaela Flaherty, Andi Perrie, Daniel Lednik, Tre Carter and Kennedy Rhodes.

“I’m very thankful,” she said.

The magazine already is getting attention across the nation, including from the International Center for Photography, which wants the students to do a presentation in the future in New York City.

Student photographer Kyli McMahon said she used her cell phone camera to take her photos.

“It was a good adventure,” McMahon said, noting she enjoyed getting out and about in the community to take photos. One of her photos in the book she took through the drive-thru window of her workplace.

Carmelle Nickens, founder of the Rural Arts Collaborative, said this is the seventh year for the project. She said her goal is to “keep art alive.”

“I am the ‘A’ in STEM, which makes it STEAM,” Nickens said of adding the art component to the study of science, technology, engineering and math.

Danielle McCracken, president of Oglebay Institute, thanked everyone involved including Kiger, whom she described as an “extraordinary photographer.”

Kiger, a documentary photographer, has published photos in The New York Times, Vox, NPR and Time magazine. She also recently contributed to the documentary film “Heroin(e).”

“I want to thank the students for putting their heart and soul into this project,” McCracken said.

Those in attendance also were treated free hot dogs and ice cream.

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