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Creativity during COVID: Fall Photo Frenzy reflections by Maddy and Lilly Kobs

By Pres House residents Maddy Kobs and Lilly Kobs.  Maddy and Lilly are members of this year’s Micro-Community Program, and the lead organizers for the recent Fall Photo Frenzy.  View the gallery of contest submissions here!

To quote an exceptional character, Mary Poppins says, “Open different doors. You may find a you there that you never knew was yours. Anything can happen.”

And as the year 2020 has demonstrated, anything can happen. This year has brought many unexpected challenges, but it has also created unique opportunities. The apartment 505 Micro-Community–– “Creativity during COVID”–– seeks to see the silver lining and use the months of isolation to foster reflection and creativity.

Our Micro-Community, sponsored by our generous donors and coordinated by Pres House staff, aims to promote wellness by exploring the arts. Now more than ever, it is paramount that we take care of ourselves mentally and physically. A valuable component of self-care is self-exploration and creative pursuits. A part of our identity is reflected in everything we create, and our community felt that exploring the arts was a way to explore our identity. The Micro-Community scholarship provides us with an opportunity to connect in a new and meaningful way and establish some certainty through friendship in these uncertain times. Additionally, each of us may find a ‘me I never knew was mine.’

Perhaps exploring our identity is a uniquely important task for yours truly, us authors Lilly & Maddy. We are identical twins. We’re also best friends and pretty much inseparable (well, apart from that part of our existence when we were one person that separated into two). Even so, we are very different. Maddy is a STEM student studying Conservation Biology and Geography while Lilly is all humanities (studying Italian, Classics, history, and archeology). For both of us, our Micro-Community gives us the chance to explore the parts of us that make us different.

It’s not all about us though. We are so lucky to live with our three fellow Micro-Community members (all of whom are creatively brilliant, talented, and kind souls) and in the inclusive, supportive community that is Pres House. We are excited to contribute to the wellness of others and interested in getting to know a bit more about how others in the broader PH apartment community express themselves and get creative. This got us thinking of ways to involve other residents in the arts.

We have both always loved nature. As kids, we pretty much lived outside. COVID-19 has given us more time to enjoy the wonders of it all back at home. Because of this Micro-Community, we realized that we love capturing the beauty of nature in the arts. Lilly enjoys sitting outside with a paintbrush to capture the flowers on canvas, and Maddy is constantly working on photographing nature for her studies. By using various mediums and experiencing nature in a myriad of ways, each person sees these beauties a bit differently. This gave us the idea of a photography contest.

The Fall Photo Frenzy became our October Micro-Community event. We asked PH Apartments residents for photo submissions of fall nature. We kept the instructions broad to let each participant get creative in their interpretation. We also labeled the event as a contest with a prize to incentivize participation. We hoped that our event would give participants another reason to be active, discover some fall wonders, and explore a creative pursuit (photography).

A surprise model

We started by taking some photos ourselves. We walked across our fields of flowers and the neighboring areas of scenic beauty. Wisconsin’s gorgeous fall colors began to surface in late September, and we tried to capture the beauty of the sunburst locust trees and purple asters. The fields, veritable purple seas, were busy with the hum of birds and the scurry of furry critters. Or rather, the animals were bustling until our big cat accompanied us on our nature walk. Our four-legged and white-mittened model even joined us in the photoshoot! We all thoroughly enjoyed our mid-afternoon walk. The wind was playfully rustling the fresh fallen leaves, and the sun showed up brilliantly in the photos we took. We were challenged by what photos to take because we had so many options and couldn’t photograph every gorgeous vista.

After we opened the Frenzy to the broader PH community, we soon realized the event would be a big success! We received 43 stunning photos from over 20 PH residents. We were amazed by the level of participation and quality of submissions. We were also surprised by the diversity of the photos. It was evident that the event had stirred our neighbors’ creative minds. Some photos were funny, others pensive and stoic; some exhibited panoramic landscapes while others caught the tiniest dew drops; some photographers had participated with others while some connected to nature in solitude.

After we received the many excellent submissions, our Micro-Community had the difficult task of choosing a winner. So we put on our art critic hats and began voting. While we did eventually decide on a winner (congratulations Nina!), we chose another five photos (505’s Fall Photo Favorites). We self-reflected and asked each other what constituted the best photos. Was it the level of detail, the view, or the symmetry? We ultimately decided on photos that made us feel the warmest, ones that reminded us most acutely of the beauty of this season and invited us into that photo.

Our Micro-Community faced difficult decisions, but also enjoyed ourselves immensely as we saw how others explored this event. As art critics, judging the photos required us to reflect and inwardly assess what we were looking for and also what we most enjoyed about the activity and the season. We tried on many hats. This activity challenged us to be photographers ourselves, critics on technique and detail, comics when we realized we couldn’t be critics, pensive about our feelings, and ultimately reflective of what made us happy. Creativity and expression highlight the multitude of identities one artist has. By opening many doors and continuing to explore many avenues of creativity, our Micro-Community hopes to encourage ourselves and the broader PH community to achieve wellness through connection and artistic expression.

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