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Riverside Industries clients take aim in new photography class

  • right  Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside industries.<br/><br/>

    right Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a photography class at Riverside industries.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence leads a photo critique during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence leads a photo critique during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tommy Carhart of Northampton, left, critiques a photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. Charlotte Shulenburg of Easthampton, right, looks on. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/> <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Tommy Carhart of Northampton, left, critiques a photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. Charlotte Shulenburg of Easthampton, right, looks on. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013.



    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Assistant Art Director Halley Studer-Sweetman of CT, left, critiques Hollie Motyka of Belchertown's photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Assistant Art Director Halley Studer-Sweetman of CT, left, critiques Hollie Motyka of Belchertown's photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence right, attaches a camera "arm" attachment onto Matthew Lamorie of Amherst's wheelchair in order to help him photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence right, attaches a camera "arm" attachment onto Matthew Lamorie of Amherst's wheelchair in order to help him photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hollie Motyka looks at a  photo she took in a class at Riverside industries.

    Hollie Motyka looks at a photo she took in a class at Riverside industries. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside Industries in Easthampton..

    Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern works with Hollie Motyka during a photography class at Riverside Industries in Easthampton.. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a  a photography class at Riverside industries.

    Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a a photography class at Riverside industries. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a  a photography class at Riverside industries.<br/>

    Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a a photography class at Riverside industries.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matt Lamorie looks at a photograph he took during a  photography class at Riverside industries.

    Matt Lamorie looks at a photograph he took during a photography class at Riverside industries. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matt Lamorie during a photograph   class at Riverside industries.<br/>

    Matt Lamorie during a photograph class at Riverside industries.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Silhouette of liquid soap dispensers, close up

    Silhouette of liquid soap dispensers, close up Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern, works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside Industries in Easthampton.

    Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern, works with Hollie Motyka during a photography class at Riverside Industries in Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • right  Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside industries.

    right Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a photography class at Riverside industries. Purchase photo reprints »

  • right  Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside industries.<br/><br/>
  • Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence leads a photo critique during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Tommy Carhart of Northampton, left, critiques a photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. Charlotte Shulenburg of Easthampton, right, looks on. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/> <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Assistant Art Director Halley Studer-Sweetman of CT, left, critiques Hollie Motyka of Belchertown's photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Volunteer and photographer Bill Rowley of Florence right, attaches a camera "arm" attachment onto Matthew Lamorie of Amherst's wheelchair in order to help him photograph during RSI's new photography program for people with developmental and other disabilities. The class was held at Riverside Industries in Easthampton on Friday, February 22, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Hollie Motyka looks at a  photo she took in a class at Riverside industries.
  • Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside Industries in Easthampton..
  • Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a  a photography class at Riverside industries.
  • Charlotte Shulenburg takes a picture during a  a photography class at Riverside industries.<br/>
  • Matt Lamorie looks at a photograph he took during a  photography class at Riverside industries.
  • Matt Lamorie during a photograph   class at Riverside industries.<br/>
  • Silhouette of liquid soap dispensers, close up
  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Caitlin Dow, left, a Springfield College intern, works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside Industries in Easthampton.
  • right  Caitlin Dow, a Springfield college intern works with Hollie Motyka during a  photography class  at Riverside industries.

— Matthew Lamorie, 37, rolled his wheelchair slowly through the fifth floor hall of the 1 Cottage St. former factory. He stopped in front of the historic building’s stairwell, where sunlight flooded through an arched window. He looked at the image he was about to capture on his digital camera, propped in front of his face on an adjustable arm that was extended from the side of the wheelchair.

Lamorie has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle control, which means he cannot hold a camera steady in his hands.

“I think I want to be straighter,” he said. He repositioned his chair to face the stairwell directly, gripped the adjustable arm tightly with his left hand and slowly and deliberately pressed the camera’s button with his right index finger. He was rewarded with a flash and the image appeared on the digital screen.

He considered the result with his photography teacher, Halley Studer-Sweetman. “There might be a little crookedness, but it’s pretty close,” Studer-Sweetman assured him. He agreed and turned down the hall to shoot more of the building, his adapted camera at the ready.

Lamorie is a client at Riverside Industries, Inc., a nonprofit that serves people with developmental and other disabilities. He is one of six members of Riverside’s first photography class, which started last month. For Lamorie, the class means he can make art even though he can’t handle a pencil well. For others in the class with various physical and mental handicaps, it’s an exciting departure from the art classes they’ve been in since Riverside started its art program six years ago.

The photography class is part of a bigger change at Riverside Industries, said Studer-Sweetman, 27, who leads the class with Northampton photographer Bill Rowley, 63. For over 40 years, the nonprofit has helped people with disabilities find employment and provided life skills classes, rehabilitation and other services.

Last summer, with the launch of Community Based Day Services, Riverside pledged to focus more on what then executive director Deborah Thomas called “the things that add texture to people’s lives.” Now, community volunteers are donating their skills and knowledge so clients can take advantage of more non-work-related activities and education, from exercise and nutrition to arts such as photography.

“I feel this has opened up a whole new world for me,” Lamorie said after a Feb. 22 class. Both of his late parents were artists — his mother was a painter and his father was a photographer — and Lamorie said he inherited “the eye” of an artist from them.

“My mom wanted me to be an artist. One of her dreams was for me to have creativity,” the Amherst resident said. “But I never could physically pick up her artist’s technique. I can’t draw a straight line.”

Now, he doesn’t have to. With the help of his teachers and the adapted camera arm, he has produced work over the last six months that has been exhibited at two galleries. One of his photos was selected by the Eastmont Art Fund to be included in an Easthampton wall calendar, and is now hanging in homes around the city.

Joy of photography

Since the first class a month ago, the novice photographers have experimented with donated cameras around the 1 Cottage St. building on three occasions. After a Feb. 22 class where they critiqued their work, they hit the hallways with even more discerning eyes.

“It’s really cool to see them come alive and experience the joy of photography,” Rowley said during the March 1 class. “Initially some of them seemed almost afraid to press the button, now they’re comfortable with the equipment and they have real opinions about what makes a picture.”

He watched as Paul McMahan, 52, stopped his wheelchair and leveled his camera at a potted tree in a wide hallway lined with large windows. “You’ve got a bright background here because of the window behind it, so maybe come over here to get the tree,” Rowley said.

Charlotte Schulenburg, 51, of Easthampton, aimed her camera out the window at silhouette of Mount Tom. “The mountain looks nice. It looks like nature,” Schulenburg said without moving her eyes from her subject.

While following her students around the halls, Studer-Sweetman said the class is a big departure from the art classes she has taught in her three years at Riverside Industries. “It’s so fun to be able to get out and explore and come spring, we can go outside,” she said.

She and Art Director Denise Herzog invited clients to take the class after identifying people in other art classes they thought could benefit from a photography class, including those who have a hard time painting or drawing.

Arts-based learning

Rowley’s interest in sharing his love of photography helped create the class.

The retiree worked at Riverside from 1980 to 1983 and has been on the board of directors for over six years. He contacted the art program coordinators last summer about volunteering.

“I said, ‘let’s put some cameras in their hands,’ ” he said. “What does the camera do? It’s like a wheelchair, it’s an adaptive device.”

Riverside called him back when they started a program that aimed to pair artists from the community with Riverside clients to produce work for an “Arts Exchange” exhibit in November and December.

Rowley and Lamorie teamed up and they experimented with tripods and other tools to help Lamorie take photographs. Though the arm works best, it’s not perfect, he said.

“I always do things kind of sideways, I try to straighten out but it’s hard,” Lamorie said of his work.

He used to edit and make photographic prints as a kind of hobby-business more than a decade ago, he said, but had never been the one to take the photos.

“I never knew I could do it,” Lamorie said.

Last fall, while Rowley was working with Lamorie, the two would “go wheeling” around the property behind 1 Cottage St. looking for subjects, Lamorie said. One day when they headed back towards the building’s rear door, a blue sign labeling the entrance as handicapped-accessible stood out to him in a sea of sun-dappled red brick. “I said, ‘that’s a statement... for the disabled people,’ ” he said.

Rowley suggested Lamorie enter one of his photographs in a contest sponsored by Eastmont Custom Framing’s Art Fund to find images from around Easthampton for a 2013 wall calendar. Judges reviewed the entries without knowing who submitted them and chose the image of the handicapped-accessible entrance. Riverside staff knew his image was selected, but they didn’t tell Lamorie until December, when Herzog plopped a copy of the finished calendar into his lap.

Lamorie joked about being on “cloud nine” after his win. “Being recognized is good. But when my 15 minutes of fame is up, I’ll be willing to step aside,” he said.

Studer-Sweetman said the new photographers will likely have their work displayed in future Riverside Industries art shows and in the nonprofit’s gallery. And as their techniques and artistic senses are improving with each class, it will be quite a show, she said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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