Glowing laptop screen with the side profile of a young, female identified person

Picturing Justice: Youth Photographs for Social Action

November 18, 2022 - January 29, 2023

Lightcatcher Building

This fall the Whatcom Museum partnered with three Squalicum High School AP English Language Arts classes on a new student art program, called Picturing Justice. The goal was to feature photographs that reflect student concerns about equality, justice, and equity. Students worked with a variety of community partners to prepare for the project. A visit to the Museum introduced students to looking closely at art. The Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center taught skills for empathetic discussions. Dr. Lauren McClanahan, Director of the Bellingham Youth Media Project, shared strategies for taking impactful photographs. Through these lessons, students learned how art, identity, and social justice connect together. They then identified a justice issue that spoke to their identities and experiences. Going out into their communities, they captured images that highlight causes they are passionate about. From climate change to racial justice, these images show the challenges affecting the lives of these rising community leaders. See these student works on display in the second-floor hallway of the Lightcatcher building.

Support of Picturing Justice is provided by Shirley Prichard, Squalicum High School English teacher; Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center; Dr. Lauren McClanahan, Director of the Bellingham Youth Media Project; and Dakota Art.

More than 70 students participated in the project and below is a selection of the submissions. To see them all and read their artist statements, visit the exhibit in the Museum’s Lightcatcher building!



Asian culture has been pushed down and erased in America since the first time Asian immigrants stepped foot in America. Chinatowns, home to cultural traditions from all over Asia, face the gentrification of larger companies. Local businesses, from restaurants to hospitals, are pushed out by white-owned chain restaurants and large apartment complexes. Asian culture in America is actively being invaded and torn down by people who are blind to the community formed through shared culture; to the home Asian Americans find through coming together and sharing their traditions.

Growing up, I’ve been made fun of for “gross” school lunches my mom woke up early in the morning to pack for me. My name is mispronounced persistently, and there are times I don’t even think to correct it. In my photo, I used a glass window to reflect an image of a barbie against a doll dressed in traditional clothing, representing the contrast between Asian culture and expectations for Asian Americans. The barbie is blurry—a clouded image of someone untrue to oneself, an expectation—whereas the doll behind the window stands her ground. If her identity were to be stripped away, her culture and way of life are still there, simply pushed away. The culture forced upon her, a blurry reflection, is the one unfamiliar to her. My purpose with this photograph is to encourage the audience to be more accepting of cultures they aren’t used to, even in the small actions they take when presented with unfamiliar customs.

Action Statement: I can be unapologetically proud of the culturally diverse aspects of my family, from food to linguistic differences. We can respect cultural hubs such as Chinatowns as places for Asian communities to come together and celebrate their culture.

Photograph of a sunset sky with gray clouds and orange and pink in the horizon above houses


A Field of Broken Glass

I took this photo in Brazil while I was volunteering with Athletes in Action. Most of this photo is of the open sky framed with a beautiful sunset reflecting off the clouds. As you look closer at this image you see the apartment complex and finally the soccer field. At first people don’t see a soccer field, or at least one that is recognizable to them. This field is all that this community in Teresina Piaui has to offer for their athletes. I took this picture as the kids were taking a water break. As I looked around, some of them didn’t have shoes on and yet all I saw was smiles from the kids as this was their passion. It was enough. I reflected on the photo I had taken that night and realized that there needs to be a movement for equal access to sports and equipment globally.  I had only ever played soccer on a beautiful turf field with a pair of cleats that fit me. I don’t even like soccer and yet I had such easy access. For the youth in Teresina soccer is their life and passion and are forced to play on a field filled with sand and glass.  My hope is that this image draws attention to the fact that there is a need for equal access to materials and I would encourage more support for programs like Athletes in Action that are helping provide materials for everyone.

Action Statement: I plan to return to Brazil this summer to help provide resources and equipment as well as lead sports camps to help grow their athletic community. You can help to support this mission by aiding programs like “Athletes in Action” and by raising awareness of the unequal access to athletics on a global scale.






I found this image at a time when wildfire smoke filled the air. Dissatisfied with the weather, to summon fall, I went to a local park. Here, I found the image of what appeared to me like a leaf, melted onto the top of a trash can lid. I knew that it illuminated my thoughts on the environment exactly. I photographed the lid of the trashcan, using a top-down view to not reveal the entire object and to have the focus entirely on the melted part. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and growing up surrounded by nature, makes it more infuriating to witness extreme heat and flooding that damages my community. I hope to invite the viewer to consider first what the image is and secondly how it came to be. The lid of a trash can melted in the image of something that looks entirely natural. There is a plethora of knowledge and wisdom to be gained by studying and connecting with the natural world. The viewers of my image will hopefully consider the immediacy of damages caused by climate change, both to the natural world and the human world.

Action Statement: I will vote for a politician who will value the health of the environment over the health of corporations.










This image represents the slow death of a culture. My culture. The image shows two dresses hung up on a wall. Both dresses are different colors, the designs on the dress are fading but the colors are still vibrant. The dresses are traditional clothes worn every day in Pakistan. The fading design represents fading culture, but the bright colors represent the parts of culture that are being “Americanized”. Typically, second and third generations of immigrants no longer wear traditional garbs anymore. We now wear jeans and sweaters, which makes us slowly lose the culture of our homeland and connections to past generations. I think this is in part due to a fear of not fitting in, of not being “American” enough. Due to this fear, we lose a part of ourselves, our history, our legacy, trying to be the “ideal” American.

As a person of color whose grandparents immigrated to the United States, I see myself slowly losing my culture. The first thing that went was the clothes. Both my parents no longer wearing traditional Pakistani clothing. The second thing that left was the language. My parents never passing it down to me due to being shamed for not speaking English. I hope this picture helps people to understand that one’s culture is important and worth saving, even when you’re afraid and shamed for being “different”. Instead, we should be proud.

Action Statement: I can encourage myself and other people to be more open-minded about wearing traditional clothing. We can normalize the representation of accurate traditional clothing in the media.







Safe Protesting

I took this image on November 7th at the Denver capital in Colorado as the Trump and Biden Presidential elections were happening. This was one of the first protests I’ve experienced as a young American and it scared me. I’ll be turning 18 in another year, and I want to be able to vote and protest peacefully. I fear that if we do not engage in peaceful protesting, protests will spiral out of control. We saw this happen at the Capital on January 6th, 2022. During this violent protest, five people were killed, as more than two thousand rioters attacked the capital building.

As I look at this image, I wonder about the future of protesting. Will there be armed guards at every corner? Will tear gas and riot shields be the norm? It’s not fair to young voters, like me, who want to safely express our right to speech, assembly, and expression of grievances. As a society we need to change our current approach to protests. We don’t need more riot armor, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Instead, we need calm voices that are willing to express their needs peacefully and safely. Violence cannot be the only way to promote change.

Action Statement: I can lead by good example and encourage the people in my community to calmly and peacefully join in protesting for other social justice issues. You can refuse to participate in protests that are violent while talking to people that frequently join in protests and encourage them to stray away from actions of violence and hate in order to make a change.




Unlocking Vulnerability

I don’t take photos of my surroundings very often. But when I do, it’s because it has meaning to me. I like to see things and picture a deeper meaning to them. I photographed a picture of a small snippet of hundreds of lockets all connected to one fence. I took this photo only focusing on the lockets themselves because that’s where all the narrative is. People come from all over the world to see it. This picture was captured in Paris, France. I took this photo because it made me wonder about all the personal stories connected to each and everyone of those lockets. Most of them have an initial plus another. Who are these people that have a locket? Are they lovers? Parent and child? Friends? Each locket connects to a story of two individuals. Each person who is putting a locket on, is sharing a piece of themselves and their person. It’s vulnerable. Instead of locking away their love and compassion inside, they’re putting it on a locket, and into it. Each locket represents love shared between two. Its brave and unprotected in theory. But the love is protected by the strong metal locket that will never break open. I hope seeing this photo made you think about how brave it is to share yourself with others, and why it’s the strongest thing you really could do.

Action Statement: I can continue to advocate and show that being vulnerable is a strong emotion and makes you brave. We can encourage others to show their vulnerable side by normalizing vulnerability.

Glowing laptop screen with the side profile of a young, female identified person


False Sense of Serenity

I took this picture with the idea of expressing the high expectations that every high schooler faces. Whether feeling pressure from coaches, teachers, parents, or peers, the universal truth is that society puts an overwhelming level of stress upon students. This year, I’ve taken on several difficult classes and joined many intensive extracurricular activities. This photo uses light and contrast in order to convey all the pressure students are under. I first started to understand the overwhelming expectations at the beginning of sophomore year, when I took AP US History, which, while being an extremely rewarding class, was difficult to succeed in as the workload was intense. This endeavor taught me how to be a successful and organized student, but for some, it soured them against school and caused them to give up. While students are constantly working, we are also still in the process of growing and learning and figuring out who we are. For some, these burdens cause overloads of stress, which can spark anxiety and other mental health issues. Mental health issues can lead to decreased focus, leading to lowered grades and decreased capacity for the normalized burdens. Adults often don’t understand this and keep pushing their children when that may be the worst thing that they can do. Many of my peers have suffered from this stress, and it can be very scary to go through this when one’s adults do not understand. It takes an incredible amount of creativity and stamina in order to succeed in the way that the adults in our lives want us to. I’ve had to come up with creative ways to complete the required amount of homework while still learning and doing my extracurriculars. I’ve mentally planned out essays while figuring out physics problems, practiced songs for choir while doing even more physics problems. While this photo may seem serene, the blaring light of the computer overshadows the real chaos on the desk. My current life is represented in this photo: Spanish and physics homework, pointe shoes on top of sheets and sheets of music. In spite of all of this, the photo seems serene. But if you look closely, under the surface, there is a storm of pressure. I hope that this photo helps to illuminate the incredible expectations for high schoolers, but to also provide understanding for the adults in our lives to have sympathy and compassion for us.

Action Statement: I can do this by changing my mindset about how I deal with my workload, from feeling stressed about all the things I need to do, to feeling grateful for having these opportunities. We can do this by changing the fundamental way society views college admissions by increasing societal understanding of the pressure that students face.





I would always freak out when people asked me my dress or pant size. Negative self-talk would make its way to my head, eating me alive. Why did I think this way? When you look at your favorite TV shows or magazines, how thin are the women in them? I sadly couldn’t stop myself from comparing myself to them. And then, as I grew older, I realized that I wasn’t the only one comparing bodies, sadly lots of people do.

Orchids are beautiful. When one looks at orchids, no matter how colorful, big, small, tall, or short, if they have a pattern on their petals or not, they are always loved. Why can’t it be like that with women’s bodies? If you are a size too big you are called fat, a size too small you are seen as sick, if you are too tall you are a giraffe, and if you are too short you look like a child. These measurements get tighter and tighter until at one point the flowers can’t breathe, and they fall. Why do we want a world with the same flowers, when we could have a world with a breath-taking variety?

Action Statement: I can change the way I view myself by using affirmative language and appreciating more my body. We can break these standards by having more variety and inclusivity in social media, our communities, and our personal lives.











A Choice

Like many people my age, I have been consumed by social media. Social media has many issues, but I chose to represent one in my picture. With the spread of social media, so many options are shown to users. Whether it’s the opportunity to travel the world, or to pick up hundreds of new hobbies, the options become overwhelming to the point where sometimes it’s easier to just do nothing. By doing nothing, we start to get upset and frustrated that we can’t be productive, which causes us to shut down even more. This is known as the “Paradox of Choice”, where a person has so many options that the choice becomes stressful and hinders their decision-making. In my work, I overlayed two images. One of me lying in bed and the other of me sitting up in bed. This photo represents the way I feel when I am overwhelmed. Often, I have found myself in bed instead of finding something to do. I hope to let others who understand this feeling know that it’s okay to be overwhelmed easily, especially during a time where social media is controlling our lives.











Shedding Light

I want to comment on the ignorance and lack of empathy our society shows towards homeless people. I believe we should engage in justice-oriented acts for people struggling in situations like this. I captured this picture to remind everybody, including myself, that even in the beautiful parts of where we live, there are deep inequities that we need to solve. The longer we continue to avoid finding a solution for this concern, the more we risk it becoming a norm in our society.

My image is of a place near Civic Stadium. Nearly every day I drive to the Stadium—a place that holds community track meets, graduation celebrations, and lively concerts—yet…still, I freeze for a second as I glance at these homes that are overshadowed by Civic’s presence. As a community, we have enjoyed the space of Civic so much, without realizing the homeless that also take refuge in this space. My hope is that by examining this image, and how it juxtaposes the two spaces, our community will give this pressing inequity the attention it deserves. Actions need to be taken, because everyone deserves a home.

Action Statement: I can help this happen by engaging in homeless outreach programs, instead of pretending I don’t notice them. You can do this by calling attention to the homeless population and treating them like people, so that we all understand we need to find solutions around mental health & affordable housing.