Vermont 4th-grader's pandemic photos featured in exhibit

Published: Jul. 12, 2020 at 7:44 AM EDT
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Inside the Londonderry Arts and Historical Society is the type of gallery that comes around about once a century.

There, you'll see black and white photos capturing the mood of the times in a project called, "Our Community from a Distance." What's more compelling than the pictures themselves, is they're all the work of a fourth-grader named Sawyer Van Houten.

"I was surprised. I didn't think my photos were that good enough to be featured," Van Houten said.

The project started weeks ago when Sawyer was bored with his daily quarantine walks in the woods. His mom, Nadine, suggested he grab her camera and take photos of nature.

"The images that night were amazing," Nadine Van Houten said.

After a little Facebook exposure, Sawyer was invited to take snapshots at skateparks, schools and of graduates, friendships and families.

"Just anything that was really interesting," Van Houten said.

One of the homes Sawyer visited belonged to the owner of the Jamaica Cottage Shop, Domenic Mangano.

"They came down to my house while the daffodils were in full bloom," Mangano said. "Being able to get out of the house and interact with a bunch of people there in the community, [Sawyer's] really learning a lot."

"I'm blown away," Nadine Van Houten said. "I would get home and download the pictures and, tears. They were moving and very touching."

Along with family photos, Sawyer captured graduation ceremonies, food giveaways and a social justice rally.

"He caught just amazing shots," Hilary Batchelor of the Londonderry Arts and Historical Society said.

During the last major pandemic to hit the U.S. more than 100 years ago, photos were taken just like Sawyer's, but they weren't just to document the time, they were used as a census to see who was still living.

"A girl who worked at a post office said to my mom that she saw all her friends in the photos and it told her all of her friends were OK, safe and happy," Van Houten said. "I'm happy that I made someone else happy."

"Sawyer's photos might be put away for a while, but in 30 years, we'll pull them back out and go, 'Wow, do you remember this?' and it will affect a lot of people in the community," Batchelor said.

Sawyer wants to keep up with the camera, but he really wants to photograph sports.