“Over the course of the last two years,” Tanya Schmid ‘11 wrote in her sophomore-year Plan Essay, “I have traveled, experienced, and learned more than I ever have before. I’ve studied environmental science, the physics of light, anthropology, history, and literature. I’ve taken four terms of Spanish, two photography classes, and Modern, African, Caribbean, and Japanese dance. I’ve studied music theory, percussion, and jazz vocals and am currently in a Vocal Chamber Ensemble. I’ve also held a steady job working at the homeless shelter in North Bennington, which has served not only as my work place, but also as my home away from home.
"I’ve spent a Field Work Term living in a barn in White Creek, New York, while working with and photographing people with developmental disabilities for United Counseling Services. I’ve opened a show of those photographs at the Stark Hose Gallery in Bennington. I’ve spent another Field Work Term living in a bungalow, a block from the beach in San Diego, California, while working as a photography and editorial intern for TransWorld Snowboarding Magazine. I’ve snowboarded all over the East Coast, gotten second place and won a snowboard, and earned first place and won $1,000. I participated in two East Coast rail jam competitions and placed second at the 2008 USASA Nationals in Colorado.
"I traveled to Alaska with my family, led a canoe trip for incoming freshman, camped for a week in Maine, and been to New York City, Boston, and Providence dozens of times. I’ve driven clear across the country by myself. I’ve slept on the subway. I’ve backpacked and slept in 15-degree weather along the Appalachian Trail. I’ve gotten as lost as possible on my bike, ridden far and long, and found my way back. I’ve lived and experienced, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. This is my inspiration and my dream. This is my life.
"I am currently a second-term sophomore at Bennington.”
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When Schmid used her Field Work Term to volunteer at the United Counseling Service (UCS), working with people with developmental disabilities, she left her perennial companion — her camera — at home. At least, initially.
“After a few weeks, I was just opened up to this world of incredible, fun-loving, inspiring people who opened my eyes to a whole new understanding of the world. I wanted to tell the stories of these individuals in their true light.”
Over the next seven weeks, Schmid delved into this newfound love of portraiture. “In the studio one night, I worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. with the same hip-hop CD on repeat and managed to print five huge fiber mural prints for my project.” Putting in the time both at UCS and in the studio, Schmid soon realized that she had more than just a project on her hands; she had a show. “Momentum started building,” she says. “I worked with Vermont Arts Exchange and set a date for a show. I also organized a ton of artwork that the people from UCS had created. We reserved a space in the Stark Hose Gallery in downtown Bennington, and I got my best friend’s band Mountain Man to play at the opening.”
After 18 months, 17 rolls of film, and hours of lab time, Schmid opened her show to a packed house. “Bennington students, faculty, and nearly everyone from UCS came. I think what was most successful about the show was how it brought these different communities of people together. How it created connections.”
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A second-term senior, Schmid returned to campus after studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile—an experience that inspired a completely different photography project, with the same humanitarian ambition. In her final Plan Essay, she explains:
“When I applied to School of International Training study abroad program [in Chile], I knew that I would have to complete a month-long independent project as a part of my studies, and that I wanted to do something with photography. Although I wasn’t sure what it would be, I had feeling that something great would come to me. A few weeks later I was with my group in the city of Arica, Northern Chile, about two weeks before the start of the project period, and we went to listen to a presentation by an NGO fighting against arsenic and lead contamination in their neighborhood. I was completely taken aback by their presentation, their stories, their sincerity, and the horrible tragedies that they as a community had faced due to the contamination. It was then and there that I realized I had found the project that had been awaiting me. Two weeks later I was in the neighborhoods and working with the NGO once again, this time with my camera, notebook, a bit of fear, and an open mind, beginning a project that would prove to be one of the most incredible, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my life. “
Schmid’s project culminated with another show at the Vermont Arts Exchange, titled Más que un número (More Than a Number).