My name is Sarah Kremer and I’ve had the good fortune of being involved with First Exposures in several different roles—as a mentor, a mentor/ mentee trainer, program evaluator, and as a board member—since 1993, just after it was founded at Eye Gallery in San Francisco. Now, as First Exposures prepares to enter its 30th year in 2023, I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the program’s meaningful legacy and brilliant future.
When I first joined, I felt like I was at home. Here was a space for adults of all ages to come together to support young people and help them learn to be creative in their expression. But it was never just a place for youth to learn photography—it’s always been a place where young people can learn photography and creative expression within the supportive structure of a mentoring relationship.
Take the darkroom, for example. Skill transference takes place in the mentoring relationship within the darkroom, where youth learn how to persevere and how to be successful in photography by doing things over and over and over. No matter what age you are, if you’ve ever done film photography then you likely remember accidentally opening up the back of a camera and exposing the film. You learn through mistakes like that and you become more comfortable in that learning process, which transfers over to other kinds of learning and helps you to be more flexible as you’re learning. Being in the darkroom also gives mentors and mentees a place to connect and build their relationships in a way that’s different from being in a fully lit space. Not having to maintain constant eye contact allows young people to feel comfortable sharing about themselves in that space with their mentors, and with other mentor-mentee pairs. The darkroom creates a sense of safety and connection that way, and invites mentors to support mentees through moments of frustration and excitement alike. That’s why I’m so thrilled that First Exposures prioritized having a darkroom in the program’s new permanent home!
Mentoring with First Exposures brought together my love of mentoring and photography, and encouraged me to get my graduate degree in art therapy. After a few years away, I came back and started to do trainings for mentors. When the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. appeared, I chose to focus my dissertation research on the program, based on the previous 10 years of evaluation data.
During this time I joined the advisory board, and I have since co-led workshops at mentoring conferences with the program’s longtime Executive Director, Erik Auerbach.
First Exposures has been a huge part of my life, and it’s been an honor and a privilege to work with the young people and volunteer mentors in the program over the years. I still enjoy the opportunity to come in nearly every year and meet with mentors and help support them in becoming amazing mentors to their mentees. I get to meet new people and get to see some of the same people, and sometimes they take a hiatus and they come back. Seeing how those mentors stay connected to the program is pretty exciting. In more recent years, the increased emphasis on youth development and youth leadership—from teaching assistants to the Youth Advisory Board—means that mentees are able to participate in so many new kinds of experiences as young adults. Getting to see them at these different points in their life is a real treat.
Now that First Exposures has a permanent home—for the first time in its almost 30-year history—I’m so excited to see what the future holds. This new level of stability promises the potential for supporting so many more young people, in different ways, who will experience the benefit of these two really positive interventions of youth mentoring and photography as creative expression. The last 30 years have proven that at its heart, First Exposures will always be a photography-based mentoring program, but beyond that, there are so many places the program could go in the next 30 years. It will be up to the youth to lead our community in the direction of what they want to see.
Young people come to the program with amazing strengths and assets, and our role is simply to help bring those assets to the fore, support these talented youth, and keep them moving forward. That’s why this holiday season, I hope you will consider making the most generous gift you can in celebration of this pivotal moment in First Exposures’ history. Together we have already accomplished so much, and with your support, our community of young people will continue to thrive in new and amazing ways for many years to come.
What First Exposures is doing is different—and special. In 1993, I never could have imagined where the program would be today. I can’t wait to see how it grows over the next 30 years and how many more youth will find their home here. Join me in helping to build that future. Thank you in advance for your generous support, and for being a part of the First Exposures community.
Sarah E. Kremer, Ph.D., LPCC, ATR-BC
Former First Exposures mentor, trainer, evaluation specialist, and advisory board member