For many of the student winners of the “Not in Our Town” photo contest, co-sponsored by the Town of North Hempstead and Long Island Press, getting a good photo was personal.
Just ask Great Neck South High School student Hannah Pei, a sports photographer who captured an image of women – one of them being a friend – of different races reaching for the same basketball. On it were also black and red boxes that declared, “We rise together, not alone.”
Pei, a member of the school’s photography club who said she was once “bullied a lot” for not being a “girly girl,” said she chose to make the photo black and white to give it a more serious tone.
“The reason was to create a deeper meaning to show that this is a very serious issue, that bullying is one of the biggest problems in society today,” Pei said.
As for the composition of the shot, which won second place in the 10th to 12th grade division, Pei said it was to showcase the power of unity.
“They’re reaching for the same goal,” Pei explained. “They both want to do it together instead of by themselves.”
The “Not in Our Town” photo contest invited elementary, middle and high school students to capture images addressing bullying and how they stand up to it. All 12 contest winners were from the North Shore, residing in places like Albertson, Mineola, Port Washington and Great Neck.
The Town of North Hempstead joined the “Not in My Town” movement, an anti-hate initiative aiming to prevent and fight back against incidents of hate, bigotry and intolerance, in 2017.
In the kindergarten to sixth-grade category, Brayden Barthelemy’s photo of children standing arm and arm to support a fellow student at the Meadow Drive School in Albertson won first place.
The second-place photo, submitted by Eli Sevanayev, featured a diverse group of students in Mrs. Pearsall’s class gathered in the Meadow Drive School, with an image of “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully,” projected onto a smart board.
Third place went to Matthew Durham, Erin Gayson, William Raia and Estefany Aguilar, students at the Hampton Street School in Mineola, whose photo shows a boy with his hand raised stood between two students armed with snowballs and a crying student.
Leah Heimowitz, of the Saddle Rock School in Great Neck, got an honorable mention for a collage of photos showing a student comforting another covered in sticky notes, protecting them with other students and calling on people to “stop bullying.”
Eliana Wong of Great Neck South High School won first place in the grades 7 through 9 category, where two hands – one in black and white – formed a heart. Lower-cased text also read, “love no hate.”
Ryan Kim, also from Great Neck South High School, took home second place for his largely black and white photo featuring a student writing down words like “stress,” “bullies,” and “despair.” The one colored portion of the photo comes with the words “Love” and “unity,” encased in a red heart.
“There’s a lot of negativity in the words you can see and there’s one person writing positive messages,” Kim said. “[It shows] how that can change the mood of a photo.”
Third place went to Christopher Gee of Great Neck South High School, whose photo says “bullying stops,” while Sheryl Huang, also of Great Neck South, got an honorable mention for photographing a sketch of two hands which features the phrase, “Strength in unity.”
Jenna Franklin and Shelley Phillipson of Schreiber High School in Port Washington secured first place in the grades 10 through 12 division. In it, a girl tries to protect herself from a person, who has capitalized words enclosed in a black silhouette over them.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me,” the photo says.
In second place was Pei of Great Neck South High School.
Daniella Erfanian, of Great Neck North High School, won third place for her photo of two hands clasped together. “You are” and “not alone” are written on the respective arms, with the back of one’s hand putting “bullying” inside a “no” symbol.
Erfanian said she never entered a photo contest before, but she said she thought this contest was a “good idea” with a good cause of trying to encourage people to get help and combat bullying.
“They shouldn’t refrain from getting help because getting help is the only thing that will make it better,” Erfanian said.
Ryan Chen, of Great Neck South High School, got an honorable mention for a photo of his friend rolling her head back super-imposed with a flock of birds flying free.
“Basically, I was trying to do something that was different from everyone else, because everyone else was doing, ‘don’t bully me,’” Chen said. “I wanted to do more of an ‘I’m stronger than you’ kind of thing.”
The student winners and participants will be honored at an awards ceremony on May 8 at Clinton G. Martin Park.
“The most successful Not in Our Town communities engage young people as leaders in their efforts to stop bullying, hate and intolerance, so it is exciting to see this diverse group of student photographers sharing their vision with the North Hempstead community,” said Patrice O’Neill, the founder and CEO of Not in Our Town.