Collaboration gives Ypsi High students professional photography opportunity

A new partnership between Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) and Ypsi clothing boutique Puffer Reds is giving Ypsi high school students their first shot at professional fashion photography.

Under the terms of an agreement struck last month, YCS district photographer Nick Azzaro has begun engaging Ypsilanti High School students in promotional photo shoots featuring Puffer Reds gear. Students volunteer for the shoots, and Azzaro coaches them as both photographers and models. The first shoot occurred earlier this month.

"They're pretty much doing everything, and they're learning lighting along the way," Azzaro says. "They wouldn't be able to walk away and recreate it on their own quite yet, but we'll get to that point."

Puffer Reds owner Eric Williams provides apparel for the shoots and will use the resulting photos for promotional materials. No money will change hands under the arrangement. The program is coordinated through the Learning Studio, Azzaro's studio at YCS, which he hopes to eventually turn into a full-fledged student-run photo studio with multiple clients.

Azzaro has worked with YCS since 2013, when he began teaching photography for the district through Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures after-school program. He recently closed his downtown studio, Chin-Azzaro, to refocus on his work at YCS. He says he'd long envisioned a collaboration between YCS and a business like Puffer Reds.

"So far, I haven't met a student that doesn't like to be photographed," Azzaro laughs. "I knew the recipe would work. It was just a matter of getting a backer like Puffer Reds."

Since photos from the first shoot appeared on Puffer Reds' blog, Azzaro says he's received an "overwhelming number" of inquiries from students interested in participating in upcoming shoots. As an incentive for academic performance, the program is currently only open to students who have a GPA of 3.2 or higher.

"The kids are talking about it: 'Hey, when are you going to get me in there?'" Azzaro says. "'What's your GPA?' – that's my first question."

Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer for numerous publications. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere.

Photos courtesy of Nick Azzaro.
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