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Capturing social realism through a camera lens

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Capturing people in all their unguarded vulnerability isn’t easy, as teen photographer Seta Douglas knows from experience.

But catching gritty social realism proved an especially daunting challenge for the 16-year-old’s latest work.

“We’ve got problems in Bermuda,” Seta said. “But there’s not that much — and I’m still in school. What am I going to show?”

Her six-minute video montage is now on display as part of Eyes on the World, an art exhibit at the Bermuda National Gallery that also includes stark images of Holocaust memorials and child labourers.

“I ended up focusing on the life of a student, Marquedelle Rodriguez, who moved here five years ago from the Dominican Republic, not speaking any English,” she explained.

“He had to find his way, learn English, and go through bullying because of his accent.”

Despite being the youngest artist in the show, Seta isn’t new to the gallery’s walls — she learned the tricks of the trade through the BNG’s Youth Camera Action programme over the last six years.

She progressed so much as a result of that programme, she was able to start teaching others last summer.

Her short video follows Marquedelle’s trials and joys over a short clip showing with the other works until May 11.

Not bad for someone who prefers using the camera to working with video.

“That’s why I like photography,” the Berkeley Institute S3 student said. “It doesn’t take sound with it.”

Art runs in her family, she said: father Vernon Douglas is an accomplished piano player, while grandmother Anne Avakian was skilled with crafts.

Seta’s mother Alyce brought her around to the YCA programme and got the camera in her hands, where it’s stayed ever since.

“Most people think I’m going to be a photographer, because every time they see me I’ve got a camera,” she said. “Actually, I want to work with children, and I’m thinking medically, probably as a paediatrician.

“But I know I’m always going to have a camera. And if they need me for a class at YCA, I’ll come teach.”

Candid photographs of the human subject are her favourite, along with landscapes and black and white images.

“Candid means you get pictures of people and they’re not aware of it,” she said. “People like to primp up first, so it’s best to get a picture when they’re not looking. Keep it in your own collection and don’t blast it off on the internet without asking permission.”

Good photographers learn from other photographers, she added: names escape her, but Seta spends a lot of time online looking at other artists’ work.

“I see a picture and think, I want to try that, I can do that,” she said.

“My advice to others would be to find the camera you’re most comfortable with. Find the right brand I had to go through a lot of brands to find out the one I really like is the Canon and find the people who can help you with it.”

For Seta, the Gallery’s education officer, Dany Pen, was the right person to provide the technical know-how for taking pictures.

“It’s not just pictures, it’s also about different angles, different perspectives,” Seta said. “Take pictures as often as you can and take them from lots of angles until you find the ones you like best.”

Young Achiever Seta Douglas' film of how a teen settled into a new high school is now on display at Bermuda National Gallery.

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Published January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm)

Capturing social realism through a camera lens

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