Kirra Larese, a Ventura High School student who just completed her first year, had covered her face most of the school day with a COVID-19 mask under her purple-tinted octagonal sunglasses.
But shortly before classes ended this month, her smile reappeared. No one on campus could miss it.
Eight larger-than-life portraits of Larese are plastered on windows and walls as part of an 84-photo exhibit curated by photography students taught by Elektra Cohen. The project is partly inspired by the work of French photographer and street artist JR.
“It’s so funny,” Larese said. “My friends are like, ‘Oh my God, I just saw you at the library. I saw you at the office.'”
The student photos, mostly black and white, are of students, teachers, and school staff. They are featured primarily on the windows of the library and classrooms at the front of the school on North Catalina Street and scattered elsewhere on campus.
The prints are, quite literally, a massive presence, each measuring 2 by 3 or 3 by 4 feet.
Sofia Hallahan, a new senior, said she hoped the project would “make people feel more familiar with each other and feel more like a community”.
Liah Kraft, the classmate and friend who took the photos of Larese, said the project was designed to give a “view of everyone’s diversity”.
This is evident, not just in the ages, genders, and ethnicities of the subjects in the portrait, but in the facial expressions and style captured in each frame.
Some subjects stare earnestly at the camera lens, others stare thoughtfully to one side, and a few like Larese harass him.
Kraft said the project inspired her to start experimenting with her craft, to dive back into street photography and close-ups of weird textures.
Her favorite recent photo is a close-up of a bumblebee.
“You could really see the details, like the little fuzz on it, that you wouldn’t see before,” she said.
Isaiah Murtaugh covers education for the Ventura County Star. He can be reached at [email protected]