Picture the future

It pains me to tell you that Grandpa Mac died Sept. 7. He was 93.

But through his life, he has changed that of so many. Myself, is most certainly included. And now, his life is being lived out through so many in his area.

Dave LaBelle is doing great things in California. Ed found the article below from the Ventura County Star about what Dave and Erin are doing with their project that I wrote about this summer, Caring with Cameras. Dave is always inspiring me to be a better person and photographer. His work out there is affecting me 2300 miles away.

I know it hurt Dave when Grandpa Mac died. It hurts me too, and I only knew him for a short summer. I’ll always remember his wit, curiosity and him yelling at a little blond girl for walking on the roof of his garage. He really was one of a kind. But despite the hurt that it brings to me, I’m very thankful to have met the person who inspired my mentor.

Thank you Grandpa Mac.

Photo by Erin LaBelle

Photos courtesy of Erin LaBelle By using a real frame, Lillian Sutton and Starla Giannatti, both 6, learned how to frame a picture during the photography project called “Caring With Cameras.”

By Kim Lamb Gregory (Contact)
Thursday, October 11, 2007

The success of his annual photography project for children has prompted instructor Dave LaBelle to look into setting up a college scholarship fund for kids interested in pursuing photojournalism.

The plans are still in their infancy, but LaBelle hopes to name the scholarship fund after his former mentor, photography teacher Denning McArthur, who died Sept. 7 at 93.

“When I knew he was going to die, I took a walk to the park and sat down and wrote something about him,” LaBelle said last week.

“I know for the first time I pass by his house and cannot slip in the back door and kiss him on the cheek as I have for so many years, the tears will flow,” LaBelle wrote, in part.

LaBelle, 56, said he believes the Ventura photography teacher’s influence at a critical period in his life is what set the trajectory for LaBelle’s award-winning career in photography. That trajectory began in the 1960s, when LaBelle was a confused adolescent having trouble adjusting to a new school.

“I was a kid that couldn’t seem to find a place, and until photography I don’t think I found anything I felt I was really good at,” LaBelle said.

McArthur taught LaBelle how to use a camera, and LaBelle was hooked. Years later, in 1997, LaBelle set up the photography project in hopes of giving young students the same sort of creative outlet McArthur gave him. LaBelle and his wife, photographer Erin LaBelle, launched the project at Dave’s alma mater, De Anza Middle School, in the Ventura Avenue area of west Ventura.

Formerly called Picture the Avenue, the annual project involves giving kids disposable cameras to shoot their families, pets, friends, events or their environment.

Now called Caring With Cameras, the summer program involved six weeks of photography instruction from LaBelle, who is a 35-year veteran in the photography business. “We talked about basics of framing and composition, light and portraiture, as well as learning the difference between posed and candid moments,” he said of the Caring With Cameras classes. “In addition to photographing assignments out of class, students watched slide shows and practiced photographing each other and teachers.”

It was about the technique, LaBelle said, but the classes were also about giving the kids a sense of self-esteem for a job well done.

“All you need is a couple of people to reinforce the things you care for,” he said, “to affirm that you have some worth. It doesn’t take a lot: just one person and a couple of kind words. Some kids, all they get is, You’re a failure,’ or You’re no good.'”

The LaBelles held the classes in June and July, attracting about 35 kids from Ventura, Casitas Springs and Oak View.

They ranged in age from 6 to 15. The little ones were a lot of fun, LaBelle said, but the kids he truly hoped to influence were those who might feel a little lost.

“I want to reach the ones that are sort of on the fence and puberty is going crazy in their heads,” LaBelle said. “I want to reach them before they get involved in drugs or gangs or get pregnant at 13.”

The LaBelles held the workshops in the Oak View Park and Resource Center; 50 years ago, LaBelle attended elementary school in the same building.

At the time, he was just a little older than the youngest ones he taught this summer — like Ojai cousins Eileen Covarrubas and Starla Giannatti, both 6.

Eileen yielded a comedic shot of her dad with his hair in wet spikes after a shower, and a photo of her pug, Bailey, sitting at curly-tailed attention.

Starla’s subject was a horse named Boo Boo, who was wearing a mask to keep the flies away. “I got under the horse and he kind of like snorted at me like, What are you doing?’ and I took his picture,” Starla said.

Josh Iannini, 10, of Oak View was fascinated with the intricacies of photography such as lighting and background. He experimented with what he had learned by taking photos of his aunt and cousin one day at the beach. “They give memories,” Josh said, when asked why he likes to shoot pictures.

Another promising photo that emerged from the workshop was a moment captured by 12-year-old Alex Albarron, who thought it might be interesting to shoot into the mirror as her cousin prepared for her day. “I thought (the shot) would be cool; it would be like looking at two or three people,” Alex said.

Alex and Josh were among the kids bitten by the shutterbug.

“I wasn’t that interested in photography but after the class I really started getting interested,” Alex said. “I see stuff and I want to take pictures. I sort of want to be a photographer.”

LaBelle knows that feeling. He started his career at the Ventura County Star Free Press in the early 1970s, then returned to what is now the Ventura County Star as its photo director from 1998 to 2001.

LaBelle has worked at 20 newspapers and magazines, published three books of photography and won numerous awards. He currently is in the process of relocating his wife and two sons back to his childhood home of Oak View after a three-year stint as photojournalism adviser at the University of Kentucky.

Erin had such a good time teaching the children for the Caring With Cameras project, she has decided to start teaching photography regularly at the Oak View Boys & Girls Club.

“I love working with kids and I love photojournalism,” said Erin, 37. “I feel like often it’s more personal to get them to document their own world and it gives them a voice. It lets them know someone wants to listen to them.”

LaBelle said the project is still evolving. He has decided to concentrate on students ages 12 to 15, as they are old enough to grasp photographic concepts and really consider it as a hobby or career choice.

Next year, he plans to hold the free workshops at the Oak View Park and Resource building as well as the Bell Arts Factory on Ventura Avenue to make it easier to get to for Ventura kids.

He knows not all children are going to embrace photography, but if he can reach just a few, he’s happy.

“If you have 20 kids and four of them you connect with and four of them go on to do something (with photography), that’s a heck of a ratio,” LaBelle said. “That’s success.”

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4 Responses to “Picture the future”

  1. That’s our Dave.

  2. As a former Mac student i was saddened to find this story via Google. I went to the Star Free Press website this morning and noticed that they still were hiring excellent photographers. I remembered that Dave was one of the best and wanted to see what he was up to.

    That’s when i found out for the first time that Mac had moved on. I took his class in ’71 as a senior and can tell you that he was one of the more profound influences i’ve had in my life. His inspiration was such that i was honored as male photographer of year (Roxy Bogner took the female honors).

    To this day i think of him when working in my modern digital darkroom. All my best to Steve, and to each and everyone who was touched by this great man!

    Rob Love in Boise

  3. I want to help you inspire the kids, like I was inspired, Dave. Hope to see you in Anaheim. We should talk. You are wonderfully inspirational! Thank you.

  4. I have met Mac through Dave and Erin LaBelle when I was working in the Ventura County area. Dave LaBelle has always organized a dinner table for him to teach the young photographers and for us to hear what other tricks and knowledge Mac brings out of his bottomless pocket.

    Whenever the newcomer came through Mac’s front door, there was a little pop quiz. When Mac met Ansel Adams for the first time, and which print was Adams’ favorite print hunting off the living room wall? I would never forget that. There I was room full of experienced and well known photographers waiting for your answer and thoughts. I used to thought exams from the school was hard, no this is a lot harder…

    All of his prints were impressive. Great use of the zoning of the b/w prints I ever seen in my own hands. It was like walking through a private collection at the museum. I just want to say thanks Dave and Erin for the great introduction to the great teacher like Mac. I never had any teacher like him.

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