January 24, 2012 12:18:00 PM
David Miller -
Before Amber Chamblee started her freshman year at Starkville Academy, she feared the school wouldn't offer the elective she most looked forward to taking.
Chamblee, along with freshmen Jamie Anthony and Janiece Pigg, had been learning the ins and outs of photography since they were seventh-graders.
But outside of a Starkville Area Arts Council camp, guidance and instruction were limited.
Until this school year.
After years of the students hounding art teacher Robin Pigg, who subsequently lobbied the administration to add the class, the students got their wish. It didn't matter that it was only offered during seventh period. They didn't care if they had to furnish their own cameras.
Now, just six months into the class, Chamblee and Anthony could be heading to Carnegie Hall in New York City for the final round of the Scholastic Art competition.
Chamblee and Anthony each earned a Gold Key at the regional competition, while Pigg earned a Silver Key. The regional competition included contestants from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The Gold Key is awarded to approximately 7 to 10 percent of all regional submissions and qualifies contestants for national recognition.
Anthony also earned the American Visions distinction, which is given to the five best-in-show participants.
"When those three won in that competition, it validated the need for the photography class," Robin Pigg said. "Now, we really are striving for good composition, elements and principles for design. Really look at how you're setting it up. We've tried to take it a step further."
If Anthony's overcast photo of the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge is selected, she'll return to Carnegie Hall for the second straight year.
"I knew what (Carnegie Hall) was, but I'd never seen pictures of what it was like," Anthony said. "I was overwhelmed by it."
Robin Pigg, who'd taught elementary schools for seven years, noticed an increased need each year for arts electives. The school already offered three levels of fine arts class but no photography or ceramics classes.
"Not everyone can draw," Robin Pigg said. "I kind of felt like we were missing the boat."
Billy Wilbanks, in his second year as Starkville Academy's principal, said small schools, particularly private schools, often find it difficult to add arts electives. But with students furnishing their own cameras, and relatively low costs for photo editing software, Starkville Academy didn't face as tough a decision this year, Wilbanks said.
"Our situation is very similar to anywhere," Wilbanks said. "The bottom-line budget plays a big role in what we can and can't offer. With Ms. Pigg on staff, it was fairly easy to work that in.
"We're proud of what our students have done. Her kids have worked real hard learning the techniques."
Robin Pigg's students also are learning that sometimes the best photos are the ones on which they spend the least time working. And sometimes, an effect opposite of what was intended creates a masterpiece.
Chamblee's black-and-white photo of a a rusted, junked car almost didn't happen.
"We were supposed to be working on distortion, making an object larger than life," Chamblee said. "I really love old cars, and it was on North Jackson Street. I thought it would be a cool shot. But I thought maybe the distortion would be wrong. But I stumbled upon the angle, the texture of the sky, the car beaten up. I spent 20 minutes out there and ended up with a great shot."
Janiece Pigg, Robin Pigg's daughter, almost didn't get her Silver Key-winning shot if not for patience. Fresh off shoulder surgery -- she plays soccer and basketball -- Janiece Pigg started to eye a bird that her cat had been stalking around the Piggs' 10 acres in Oktoc.
She ended up with a lonely bird on a wire, just minutes before dusk.
"I sat out there for nearly three hours," she said. "The bird kept moving, and it drove me nuts."
Starkville Academy's photography students will continue to enter the Scholastic Art competition and build portfolios. When they're seniors, their portfolios will be judged and they'll have the chance to win scholarship and prize money.