West develops photo outreach

Eric Van Marter | The Ranger Rene West poses with members of the Amarillo College Photography Club and fourth- and fifth-grade San Jacinto Elementary students who participate in the after-school Camera Clubhouse.

When asked, many students said they’d be hard-pressed to find an instructor as passionate as Rene West.

An Amarillo College photography instructor since 2008, West has shared that enthusiasm with the many students who have passed through her classes.

But it was her work in the community that earned her one of six faculty excellence awards this fall.

For the past four years, West has worked alongside members of the AC Photography Club as they share their knowledge with fourth- and fifth-graders at San Jacinto Elementary School during bimonthly Camera Clubhouse workshops.

“I love the clubhouse,” West said. “I just love the kids.”

The program was established after West approached President Paul Matney about an outreach program.

“Dr. Matney adopted the whole school,” West said.

The outreach serves as a learning experience for both the elementary students and ACPC members.

“They learn a lot doing that,” West said. “We get to spread the gospel of photography.”

Eric Van Marter, ACPC president and a photography major, agreed, and said working with Camera Clubhouse students reinforces the skills they’ve learned in class.

“It takes a lot of energy, but it’s very rewarding for me to impart my knowledge on another generation,” Van Marter said. “The kids are really into it. We’ve got some real promising students.”

West also is involved in the annual Worldwide Pinhole Day. Since 2011, West and ACPC members have hosted the event at AC which allows any member of the community who is interested to come to the campus and build pinhole cameras. Participants then get help making and developing photographs.

“It’s another thing I wanted to do,” West said. “It’s becoming a regional event.”

West and Van Marter said this year, the event, scheduled for Sunday, will included photography enthusiasts from Lubbock and Fort Worth. They expect the turnout to be significantly higher than in past years.

Part of the allure, West said, is that it is truly a world-wide event. Participants connect online and share photos they create regardless of where they are in the world.

“I really love Worldwide Pinhole Day,” she said. “People of all ages who have never made a photo love Pinhole Day.”

The same eagerness she has for her community projects, whether it be working with elementary students, building pinhole cameras with the public or delivering lectures on one of her many areas of photography expertise, is what students said make her classes so dynamic.

“She really knows her stuff,” said general studies major Michael Robinson.

“I like that she knows the old-fashioned ways, too, and she gives us freedom to take photos of whatever we want.”

Other students add that freedom is tempered with constructive criticism, helping students not only learn the skills needed, but excel as photographers.

“She challenges you. She’s not afraid to tell you that you can do better,” said Elizabeth Beckham, a photography major, lab assistant and ACPC member.

Beckham said the feedback makes students want to be better. Van Marter agrees.

“She’s a very motivating teacher,” he said.

“She motivates us to motivate the kids to motivate their cameras to make better pictures.”

For West, the enthusiasm and passion come easy.

“I love what I do, and I do what I love,” she said.

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