“It all started in the neighborhood of Roxbury. Gary Knight, who’s a photographer and fellow mentor, had an idea to partner up with the Teen Center at the YMCA. He reached out and asked if I’d like to be involved. He’d been keen on my work for a while, so we created this nine-month program together. We focused it on the idea that photography could be used as a tool for empowerment.”
Along with two other practicing professionals, Nina partnered with the VII Academy, a non-profit organization. From here, she contacted Fujifilm in search of sponsorship. Unique and distinct, her plans tapped into a core tenet of our philosophy.
“They were gracious enough to donate 25 cameras. It was still very much in the embryonic stages, but the whole thing was slowly developing – a very exciting time.”
Castigating old-school disciplinarians and dreary, uninspired classrooms, this view of education is a compassionate, self-effacing one. Appealing to the pastimes of her students, personal engagement wasn’t just a means of instruction. It was a way of incentivizing curiosity, and maximizing contribution.
“It comes down to being relatable. Asking questions is so important. Engaging with what they like and feel passionately about – that’s the way in. It’s all about your intent as a mentor. You need to properly connect with the people you teach – you can’t be egotistical. It’s completely unproductive, and students will detach. They won’t be interested in learning anymore.”
More than anything, Nina understands the value of a great educator, and the indelible effect it can have. If bad teachers can dissuade and deter, great ones can inspire and stimulate.
“I can hardly remember any of the teachers I had at my first art school, except one. That whole institution felt so clinical and bland because of the educators I encountered,” she recalls. “I stopped going when I realized that my favorite teacher conducted classes at the City College of San Francisco for a fraction of the price. I’m still connected to some of those teachers. They helped me recognize what I like and what I gravitate towards, which in turn shaped my individuality and style.
“I had this one teacher named Katy Perry,” she chuckles. “Being in her class was great. She helped me open up. While I was there, I realized the importance of imperfection – she also had this great approach to what she dubbed ‘happy accidents’. That was the first time I let go of the idea of flawlessness. I stepped outside of my box, and it was really liberating. Katy played a huge role in my creative transformation.”