A sale provides validation




Five years ago, nearly to the month, Corey Williams met Debbie Hooper.

Williams, then a high school junior, was part of High School High Tech at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, a program that aims to offer kids with learning challenges the tools to future employment and success.

Hooper, as she is today, was a local professional freelance photographer.

The meeting was wildly unlikely, but, as time would play out, fortuitous.

A component of HSHT is a “shadowing” day when the students are placed with local employers to observe and learn job skills.

A second key component is summer internships, many of which arrive on a direct path out of shadowing day.

In that regard, Hooper was not a fit for the program because, as a freelance photographer, there are no summer internships to offer.

And Williams should have had no reason to interact with Hooper.

He had done the shadowing/internship thing with Fairpoint Communications and was destined, immediately after high school, to spend a year training and working with the Department of Corrections.

But Hooper was invited to that 2013 shadowing day by Dr. Pat Hardman, who oversees the local HSHT program.

She was there specifically to meet Williams.

Though the quiet Williams was hardly broadcasting, Hardman knew the young man was intrigued photography.

“I was interested in the craft,” Williams said.

And from there, a relationship grew to the stage in which Williams calls Hooper “mom.”

In turn, his photography skills have advanced to the point that one of his photos, displayed during the current The Joe Center for the Arts’ debut show, was purchased by an enthusiastic attendee of the opening night last month.

“I was honored,” Williams, now 22, said of his sale. “This is me progressing into photography.

“Everyone is giving me an opportunity and it’s coming at the right moment. I have never had this kind of support before.”

Above all, though, Williams pointed to the partnership with Hooper, who he called “inspiring” and “motivating,” as the key to that growth; and the beginning of doors opening after that 2013 shadowing day.

That day, Hooper was already giving an informal tour of St. Vincent Island and Williams tagged along, the tour becoming one-on-one after the group dispersed.

The two followed with a number of photo shoots, often taking a friend of Williams, who aspired to be a model, along to pose in a host of places.

Hooper patiently taught composition, angles, light, to Williams.

“She inspires me a lot,” Williams said. “I enjoy her work. She was like a mother to me.

“I had never had anybody push me like that. All in all, I listened to everything she said.”

Hooper, she acknowledged, was not completely sold on that last point.

The two maintained contact, Hooper was invited to Williams’ high school graduation, and the lessons, though far from formal, continued sporadically.

Late last year, Williams finally showed Hooper some of his work.

Hooper discovered, despite her skepiticism, Williams had been absorbing those lessons all along.

“The big thing was showing me his work and he showed me that he was listening all those times,” Hooper said. “He had taken it all that in.”

Williams said, “I was surprised they were good in her eyes.”

Hooper, as these things are wont to play out, knew of the coming exhibit on North Port St. Joe history that would be at The Joe Center for the Arts and knew Leslie Wentzell, a member of the center’s organizing committee.

Wentzell agreed with Hooper’s view that Williams had photos, of North Port St. Joe today, that should be in the show.

Williams texted Hooper the news and the selection process began immediately.

“This was all just connecting,” Hooper said. “We had just gone over the photos at the library.

“They were fresh in our mind.”

After winnowing, the two arrived at 10 for the show and Williams had to come up with an artist’s statement explaining the motivation and execution of his work.

In addition to selling one photo, Williams also was able to “network with a bunch of people.”

Unfortunately, Hooper was not there to see her pupil’s success.

“The hard thing for me was that I could not be there last month,” Hooper said, noting she was at a photography convention. “I wanted to be there.”

Williams assured she was present, if not physically.

“She’s always been like my mom,” Williams said.