On the walls of a Hygienic gallery, images and words are paired, reflecting eloquently on one another.
The photographs - captured by New London teens - are striking images of, say, a hand clutching a rosary and grabbing onto fence bars, with railroad tracks laid out beyond. In another photo, a student's reflection is caught hauntingly in a window, seeming to disappear into the face of an elderly man sitting on the other side of the glass.
Accompanying each is poetry inspired by the picture. Taking her creative cue from Dimitri Wallace's photo of dark, tangled trees that almost obscure a flag - a swoosh of red, white and blue - flying behind them, 11th-grader Nathalia Rios wrote "Dancing While It Lasts":
The trees danced from day to night,
their shadows like other beings.
Even when they'd lost their sight,
the trees kept on breathing.
It was not the singing that was to be heard,
but the beauty there was to gaze.
The constant tweeting of the birds
accompanied the branches in their maze.
But all too soon an arm poked in,
and then a leg and body.
Much too quickly the dark spread from within,
the silence was all too deadly.
The sign went up and hung there like a grave,
of the dancing nobody wanted to save.
The exhibition is the culmination of a semester of work by New London students who have been deemed at-risk and who are participating in "Picture My World." That new program is part of the "Do the Write Thing" afterschool project, which has been running at the Hygienic since 2005.
While "Do the Write Thing" focuses on writing, "Picture My World" brings photography into the mix. It shows teens how they can use a camera as a means of self-expression and a way to explore their world, with professional photographer and Hygienic president A. Vincent Scarano leading the way.
The students who have been taking part have found it a rewarding experience.
Ayeisha Washington, a junior at New London High School, says, "I guess I'm not really good at expressing myself, so writing and pictures and art has been a way that I can express myself. ... Writing makes me happier, I guess."
Rios, a junior at the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London, says one of the wonderful things about the program is "you come here, and you basically write down your feelings on a piece of paper. Or your dreams."
She has been taking part in the Do the Write Thing program since she was in ninth grade.
"I think all of our writing has become more creative. Also, it's easier for us to write and to think of things to write about now because we've been doing it so much."
Rios says that, for "Picture My World," she and other students photographed things people normally wouldn't notice. Several, for instance, found something new and photo-worthy in New London's Bates Woods and Waterfront Park.
The idea for "Picture My World" came from Linda Mariani, a Hygienic supporter who had seen a similar photo exhibition in West Palm Beach. A master photographer taught disadvantaged kids how to shoot photographs, and the youths wrote accompanying journals.
"I found it very moving," Mariani says. "I said, 'This is for New London.' I knew it would be perfect."
Mariani suggested to Scarano that the Hygienic do something similar. He got in touch with Nancy Rodgers, a New London High School English teacher who directs the Do the Write Thing project.
Mariani secured funding from various sources, including Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton Bank and the city of New London. That money was used to buy 10 Canon cameras that the participating students borrowed. They would take photos of their lives, their neighborhoods, their worlds - whatever galvanized them.
Scarano instructed them on shooting, composition and lighting.
"We did some photo expeditions," Scarano says. "We would come back every week, and we would show the images. Then we would take the best images and write about them. The kids would write journals about why they shot them, but also the other kids would write about what they saw in the photographs."
And so, last Wednesday afternoon, Scarano was leading the way as enlargements of the best 25 shots were hung on the walls of the Hygienic's downstairs gallery.
The teens who weren't helping to put up their works were chatting and laughing. They listened to two fellow students - Justin Lind and Magdiel "KrEz" Roldan - run through the rap they'll perform at the exhibition's opening reception this Wednesday. They all applauded.
Besides enjoying the camaraderie, the youths have improved their artistic perspective.
"They came out with some great photographs. ... They really looked at composition and balance and exposure and subject matter," Scarano says. "It's amazing how they really engaged and stepped up to the plate on this. ... I think it could grow."