Sometimes it seems as if our mentors are the unsung heroes of our program, so every now and then we like to spotlight the amazing dedication that they give to us. Not only does each full-time mentor commit to volunteering a minimum of 128 hours of their time each year, but many often do more and stay on volunteering for well past their one-year commitment. Here are two amazing mentors that have done just that. Jenn and Trevor Wilson have been a part of the First Exposures community for a combined 15 years.
How did you get interested in photography?
Jenn: My father gave me a camera shortly before I left for Holland to work at Zeehondencreche for the summer of 1994. I snapped loads of photos without any success (just a pile of blank film). So I enrolled in a photography class the moment I got back to the States. That was it. A few months later, I switched majors.
Trevor: I’m not sure but likely because of my dad. He had old cameras on his bookshelves and I remember playing with them without any film in them. Later, I remember borrowing my mom’s skinny point-and-shoot 110 film camera for a road trip from California to Oklahoma with my dad and then using it to take pictures on my grandparents’ farm that summer. It wasn’t until high school when I actually took any classes and that was 35mm B&W only. Not the best instructor and I remember having several rolls come out blank - nothing on them at all. He told me that I must’ve opened the back of my camera and ruined the film and I had to argue with him because I knew that the film wasn’t exposed at all. I was the one who figured out the spring for the mirror was broken and so the shutter would click but the mirror wouldn’t move up so the film was never exposed. Then college taking B&W, color, and Advanced B&W is as far as I went. I will never pretend to be good, but I enjoy it. I also am definitely not a professional and not even really a hobbyist more maybe more than a casual photographer - if there is a category for that. These days, most pictures are only on my iPhone and it’s more about capturing unique angles, patterns, and moments.
How did you find First Exposures?
Jenn: Honestly, it’s been so many years that I couldn’t remember how I first heard of First Exposures until I reviewed my original application. Apparently, I first discovered the program through the SF Camerawork website in 2009. Honestly, I just remember the program sounded exciting and meaningful.
Trevor: Through Jenn, of course!
What drives you to work with youth and why do you think photography and mentoring are so important?
Jenn: Much of what happens to us during our formative years affects the rest of our lives in every possible way. So any efforts to provide sincere support and encouragement can make all the difference. Art simply provides an outlet — to indulge curiosity, exercise creativity, and develop valuable critical thinking skills.
Trevor: I’m not sure what drives me to working with youth other than their views of the world are not as cemented as ours are as adults and I think expanding their horizons so that they have as many choices as possible is vital to a better world. Photography is a tool for this. Many people don’t get exposure to art beyond a bit of history or what they might see in the movies or on TV. For photography, specifically, they see it through the lens (pun intended) of social media and not as art. But it’s something they’re still familiar enough with to create a bridge to more. Also remember that I volunteer at 2 different science institutions as well interacting with all ages, but a high percentage being youth, because I think expanding our imagination in science is just as vital. And they are not at all exclusive.
What are your other interests and how do they intersect with your photography?
Jenn: Cooking, gardening, exercise, science, including wildlife conservation and entomology — the list goes on and on. It all intersects with photography and every other art form. After all, there’s some art in everything around us (although it’s not all good!). Interests easily become inspiration for or subjects in photos. Everything comes from something else.
Trevor: Well, volunteering. I’ve been with FX for many years - starting out by helping at LFGB (Looking Forward Giving Back is FX's annual art auction and fundraiser) and Help-Portrait then becoming a part-time mentor and now a full-time mentor, but I also volunteer at the California Academy of Sciences as a docent (10 years in January) and at Lindsay Wildlife in Walnut Creek as a wildlife educator. Beyond that, it’s movies, music, and books - not necessarily in that order. I’m usually thinking about any of those 3 things or inspired by any of them when I do photography. And then most recently, gardening, which I don’t ever have as much time to do as I want.
What other parts of your life have inspired your photography or time in First Exposures?
Jenn: This answer will sound like a cliché, but, there is so much negativity in the world (politics, prejudice, homelessness). But our community is what we make of it. So it’s important to encourage open minds and freedom of expression — without censorship of any kind.
Trevor: Intense emotion has had the biggest impact on my photography. Of course, that means it wasn’t always good and maybe even often sadness, anger, depression, or other “negative” emotions. But that hasn’t been the inspiration for FX. Really, the inspiration to increase my involvement in FX over time has just been that the more I helped with it, the more I saw just how amazing it is. A lot of that goes to watching Jenn working with her mentees over the years and being able to observe just how impactful her time with the mentees has been.
What's been a favorite First Exposures moment during your time involved?
Jenn: All the moments spent laughing, just having fun and finding common interests.
Trevor: Oh, that I’m not sure. Is it fair to say every day at FX? I honestly can’t think of just one specific thing.
Many of our mentors are inspired by others to join the program. If you would like to get involved or learn more, we'd love to hear from you at email@example.com / 415.716.8651.