Laurie Klein, a world renowned photographer who studied under Ansel Adams, has built an international reputation as a photographer and educator from her studio in Brookfield. Her career has spanned over three decades and includes artistic portraits, unique fine art nature pieces, and occasionally some wedding photography.
Klein's belief that it is important to give teens a creative outlet in the arts has spawned a photography mentoring program that has been going strong for over 15 years. This month and next, the youths are exhibiting their work on the walls of Brookfield Town Hall.
A Brookfield native, Klein has been mentoring Brookfield and Newtown teens for about 15 years on a one-on-one basis. For the last five years, she added Bethel and Wooster students and began conducting group sessions.
"I found photography as a student in Brookfield High and if it wasn't for some people there encouraging me, I would have fallen through the cracks," Klein reflected.
"Laurie's program confirmed for me that creative outlets are worth the time and effort," Matt Valenti of Bethel said. "Laurie showed me how to infuse my creativity into all daily life. Laurie's mentorship is one of the most positive and influential experiences of my life," he stated.
The program generally takes in 10-12 teens from September through December and hosts workshops and other events throughout the year.
Valenti, a 2010 Bethel High School graduate, wanted to set up an independent study program during his senior year of high school. His photography teacher suggested working with Klein. His works, along with three other local teens, are displayed in the photography exhibit at the Town Hall.
Christina D'Arco (Brookfield Class of 2010), Nicole Cudzilo (Bethel 2009), and Kate Foy (Newtown 2010) also have their work on display.
The show came about when Mary Daniel, Chairman of the Brookfield Arts Commission, approached Klein to ask if her mentees would like to exhibit work. Daniel saw the show they participated in at the Danbury mayor's office, which included an opening-night reception, and thought it would be a great idea to have one in Brookfield.
"We learn how to critique work without saying 'I like something or I don't like something' because that could be very insulting and judgmental," Klein explained. "We use 'This works' or 'This doesn't work' and that's why the kids named their [Danbury] show 'It Works.'"
"Being a part of Laurie's Young Adult Retreat was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had," D'Arco said. "It really opened my eyes to the world of photography."
She continued, "There was a point in the program where I began to doubt myself and my abilities, as I saw everyone else already beginning to put their work together and finalize their decisions. When that light bulb finally went off, I immediately went to Laurie with my photos, and she supported me 100 percent. I had chosen to photograph my Indian friend in traditional Indian saris to show cultural diversity and natural beauty. Laurie's encouragement and faith in me throughout the entire program is what kept me motivated, and I believe my final exhibit was evidence of this. "
According to Klein, next year's program will be different than that of previous years because of their involvement with The Silo in New Milford, now known as Hunt Hill Farm. The owners, Ruth and Skitch Henderson, a conductor for the Boston/NY Pops, invited Klein to do a show in the main gallery, which limits her to only six kids. The students will learn how to produce, exhibit and hang a show.
"This year they will have to figure out what their theme is earlier and images have to be really tight. The kids have to get a letter or recommendation from an art teacher or guidance counselor, send a bio, a statement of why they want to do this, as well as samples of their work," Klein said.
With no youth center in Brookfield there are not many venues for teens to show their work. "It's a problem in the schools, period," she said, "What's the first thing that gets cut?"
Her dream is to obtain a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project for her mentoring program in order to purchase laptops, equipment for a darkroom and infrared cameras.
"Teenagers are incredible. I really don't know who gets more out of it, me or them?" Klein said. "They have infused my business with so much art and energy."
Laurie Klein's mentor program photography exhibit is open to the public for viewing during Town Hall hours. All work is for sale. Contact Mary Daniel at 203-740-9290.
For more information about Laurie Klein Photography or her youth mentoring program, contact her at the studio.