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Amundsen Student Photo Exhibit Earns Buzz, and Money, at Burger Joint

 Portraits taken by Amundsen High School students are on display at Buzz Burgers, which is donating money to the school through May.
Portrait of a High School Student
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NORTH CENTER — You know what helps when you're studying photography?

A camera.

Jessica Gansz has been teaching photography at Amundsen High School for seven years. Approximately 75 students take her Photography 1 class — among the electives offered to fulfill an art requirement for graduation.

"None of these kids have used a real camera," Gansz said. "They just use their phones."

Patty Wetli joins DNAinfo Radio to talk about Amundsen High School's photography class:

Or, in the case of senior Karina Pena, her friends' phones — she doesn't have her own.

"It was hard," she said, of having to constantly borrow equipment.

For a recent portrait assignment, in which students were paired up to photograph each other, Gansz doled out the one point-and-shoot and lone SLR camera at her disposal — and the teens showed what they could do when given the proper tools.

 Patrons of Buzz Burgers can admire Amundsen students' portraits through May 22.
Patrons of Buzz Burgers can admire Amundsen students' portraits through May 22.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Putting to practice lessons on background distraction, posing and the "rule of thirds," students used Amundsen's stairwells, lockers and doorways as backdrops to create a series of graceful, illuminating images.

"I was amazed that they took such good portraits," Gansz said.

The results are on display through May 22 at Buzz Burgers, Barrels and Beer, 1935 W. Irving Park Road. During the exhibit's run, owner Mara Milanovic will donate $2 to Amundsen's photography club for every food bill greater than $10, along with a $3 discount to any diner who mentions the portraits. If patrons opt to forgo the discount, Amundsen gets the entire five bucks.

Gansz said the cash infusion would go toward purchasing additional cameras and printer ink — each assignment depletes a full ink cartridge.

"We said when we opened that we wanted to be part of the community and give back when we could," said Milanovic.

Buzz features rotating art exhibits every six weeks, and Milanovic, a long-time acquaintance of Amundsen's principal Anna Pavichevich, hung the gallery of student portraits during a lull between previously scheduled installations.

"All artists need recognition," said Milanovic, who was impressed with the students' "heartfelt" work.

Teachers, parents and community members attended an opening reception Monday evening, where many were as moved by the personal statements that accompanied each photo as they were by the images.

The statements, written by the portrait subjects, are intended to question how much you can tell about a person just by looking at a picture, according to Gansz.

"We're dealing with prejudice and perception. How does reading a person's story change the way you see their picture?" she said. "You learn about their fears, their stresses."

Pena, who posed with a small cross, wanted to share the importance of her religion.

"I had problems at home, I was a bad student, I had a bad reputation," she said. "Two years ago, I went on a retreat and it helped me a lot. I'm proud now that I changed."

Christine Gilbert, mom of Amundsen student Michael Drakopoulos, a participant in the exhibit, was impressed with the level of expression, both visual and verbal.

"I'm surprised how honest some of them are," she said.

For his part, Drakopoulos said he learned "some things I never knew about people."

"The people who normally sit in the back of class, this really brought forward their personality."