Although Mount Everett senior Mary Shalaby won’t be able to utilize her school’s darkroom to develop photographs for her independent art project, she still hopes to turn a negative into a positive.
With schools across the commonwealth closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19, students like Shalaby have had to shift their creative focus to utilizing resources at home, rather than at school.
For Shalaby, staying creative has never been an issue. A member of the school’s theater program, Shalaby was featured in the latest Mount Everett Regional High School production, as well as participating in the school’s choral program and student government.
But with the final weeks of her high school career being conducted over virtual meetings, she is still adapting to the new normal classroom setting, much like her weekly art classes held via Google Meet.
“Since I was a senior, things were starting to slow down anyways,” Shalaby said. “But I was really busy and as soon as it all ended, it all hit me that I’m not going back to school. I’m just a little bit discombobulated about it.”
Before schools were officially closed on Thursday, March 12 by Gov. Charlie Baker, Shalaby was focused on fashion design photography, which included the portraits of a few classmates and friends. But without models to photograph, Shalaby has now put herself in front of the camera in her first attempt at visual art.
“One of my friends in the class is also making clothes, so I was going to photograph those and I was also doing portraits,” she said. “I didn’t make it far enough into the clases at school to figure it out, but I took some photos of my friend in a jean jacket and they produced the coolest pictures. You can kind of see the coordination between her hair and the fabric of the jacket. I was really interested and wanted to try it.”
Shalaby’s inspiration for her self portraits came from local photographer Kenzie Fields, who taught Shalaby the technique behind producing a washed-out black background in the space of her own home.
The self portraits were taken in her garage and also feature material she stripped from her old prom dress, said Shalaby. With the sunlight to her back, she said she pointed her camera to her garage wall, and then posed on the shaded side of the room.
It was also the work of Arthur Elgort, a fashion photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue magazine, that inspired Shalaby to take on fashion photography.
Her work was well received by her classmates and art teacher, Michelle Raszl during a recent Google Meet class, she says.
Shalaby also is staying creative by attending group meetings online held by Shakespeare & Co., the Lenox-based theatre company. What was originally planned as twice-weekly in-person meetings to practice and rehearse scenes has now turned to online meetings held via Zoom video conferencing.
“It’s so different. Before, it’s really physical and when you’re rehearsing scenes, you have to be there with them,” she said. “We haven’t rehearsed any scenes on Zoom yet.”
In addition to the remainder of the school year being held online, Shalaby says it’s a bummer for the senior class to have to end their academic careers without a formal prom or graduation ceremony. For some students, the closure of schools could mean the last in-person interaction with some of their peers.
“So many of us are going off to do our own things,” Shalaby said. “There’s a lot of kids who we see at school and converse with every day, but who we don’t see out of school. That could have been the last time we’ll see them in a very long time.”
Shalaby will be attending Syracuse University in the fall to study Economics, but says she hopes to continue her passion for the arts.