Exhibit portrays women of Woodland

Woodland Regional High School English teacher Jess Block, left, and senior Morgan Swift look over photos that Swift took of Block during the unveiling of the Women of Woodland exhibit March 7 at the school in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — The women of Woodland Regional High School are at the center of a new exhibit that adorns the lobby of the school’s auditorium.

The Women of Woodland exhibit highlights 14 ladies, all of whom are students, staff or teachers at the high school, through photographs and video interviews.

The exhibit was developed by Woodland Worldwide, a Woodland-based organization with a mission to advance the rights of women and girls within the community and around the world, in conjunction with the school’s fine arts department.

Woodland Worldwide unveiled the exhibit March 7 in celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

Meghan Geary, a humanities teacher and co-adviser of Woodland Worldwide along with fellow humanities teacher Lisa Olivere, said the organization tries different ways to highlight the women and girls in the school and the community. The idea behind the exhibit was to create a way to recognize people for more than just one day.

Geary said the organization sought nominations for women and girls who embodied certain traits, such as integrity, embracing feminism, speaking up for the voiceless, and giving an opportunity for people to feel they belong and are part of a community.

“We wanted to recognize them for the different values they exude and different philosophies they don’t just embrace, but live,” Geary said.

Staff and students voted for their favorite nominees and the top 14 were chosen to be honored this year.

“We have so many incredible people around this school community. It just shocked me to hear I was chosen. It was very touching, especially to hear some of the words the students shared about me in their nominations,” said Jess Block, an English teacher at the school and one of the honorees.

Aisha Yusuf is a senior at Woodland and one of the honorees.

“This means a lot to me because I didn’t think I would be nominated,” Yusuf said. “It kind of encourages me that I can aim high in the future, in my career, and help other people like I do here.”

The number of honorees was capped at 14 because each one worked with one of Kristen Lengyel’s 13 photography students and with Lengyel herself to create a portrait and video for the exhibit.

Lengyel, who is chair of the school’s fine arts department and one of the 14 honorees, said the photos are designed to show the women how they really are. While the photos were edited, she said, a lot of care was taken not to edit the way the women in the photos looked.

Woodland Regional High School seniors Aisha Yusuf, left, and Ryann Giuliani look over photos that Giuliani took of Yusuf during the unveiling of the Women of Woodland exhibit March 7 at the school in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

“Often we are inundated with these images on Instagram of social media queens with their ring lights and they are overly photoshopped. They don’t look like what a real girl, what a real woman really looks like,” Lengyel said. “That was a lot of this project — showing what people really, actually look like.”

Each photographer spent time getting to know their subject, and then created a portrait that highlighted who that person is.

Ryann Giuliani, a senior, photographed Yusuf in two shots, one looking serious and the other laughing.

“I wanted to capture her two sides because everybody knows Aisha for being kind of reserved and quieter and focused on her academics. But I wanted to get her funny side out. I can make her laugh and I know she likes to have a lot of fun, so that is what I captured with the two of them,” Giuliani said.

Morgan Swift, a junior, photographed Block holding books against a black backdrop.

“I brought in the books because I went with the theme of knowledge is power and she is an English teacher, so it really told who she was,” Swift said.

Geary hopes the Women of Woodland exhibit becomes an annual event, saying she wants it serve as a reminder to people that they don’t have change the whole world to make history.

“When we think of Women’s History Month, we think of someone who had to invent some lifesaving medicine or become the first female president of the United States or something like that. There are ways to make history and make an impact in your community in small ways as well. So we really want people to see that,” Geary said.