Through the Lens: Photo Club working with intellectually and developmentally challenged

By Sarah Williamson |

The Flagler College Photography Club teamed up with Arc of St. Johns to teach students the excitement of taking photographs. This unique program, funded by a local grant last fall, has become a favorite part of the students’ week.

The Arc of St. Johns is a school for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc was formed in the 1950s by a group of concerned parents and activists. Arc’s vision, to this day, is to have their students “participate as full members of their communities, throughout their lives.”

Photography club leader Gorge Gallardo arranges weekly photo safaris with the group. They have traveled around the Flagler campus, the Lightner Museum and the marshlands at Fort Mose. Every week brings a new experience for the Arc students to learn how to use their cameras in different scenarios.

Many of them have never had a camera in their lives.

“They are actually starting to understand photos, the composition and what to look for when they are looking at what surrounds them,” says Mike Ridley, 44, an employee at Arc who attends the weekly safaris.

Not only do they understand what makes a photograph, they are taking them constantly. Even when photo club members are not present, the group spends time around their campus shooting Arc’s beautiful pond and gardens.

Tommy C. has a severe hearing impairment and the group often finds it tough communicating with him. As soon as he is given his camera, he disappears. He sets up the viewfinder perfectly and arranges his photos using what photographers call the rule of thirds. He has never been told to do so, he just does it.

Judy P. says the best part of this class is taking pictures of the Flagler students. She loves taking portraits. Her physical disabilities do not stop her in the process. If she needs the camera to be higher, she simply asks for assistance and tells one of the members to push down the shutter.

“It’s very easy, you see? Once you take a picture, picture, picture …” she explains while making a clicking motion with her hand.

Flagler club members appreciate their meetings with Arc, not only to watch them progress as photographers, but to be out in the field themselves. Last week it was a first for everyone taking photos at Fort Mose. It gives the club an opportunity to slow down their hectic week of classes and work and do what they love best; just to shoot photos.

“I feel more like a companion to them than a teacher. We are getting them to try new things and showing them opportunities they may never have had before,” says Photo Club member Kevin McDonald, 20.

For the Arc students, it is not just the act of taking a photo; it’s the act of being part of something new and exciting.

The Photography Club is thrilled about what is ahead. Members are currently reviewing photos that are to be framed and matted for a gallery showing in the spring. It will be open to the public and Arc students will be there displaying their work.

Sarah Williamson, a photojournalist with the Gargoyle, also works with the Photo Club on the Arc project. To find out more, email her at


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