Picture Perfect Legacy
Just as his father did for him, Rob Sweeten opens the door to photography for young people.
Eleven years ago, Rob was a math teacher at Boca Raton Community High School, when former principal Dr. Geoff McKee suggested he share his talent as a professional race car photographer with students. Within a year, Rob was teaching photography full-time.
His father Bob Sweeten had been taking pictures of car racing for decades when he trained Rob in action photography. Rob’s first photo was published at age 14. “At Daytona Speedway, before I was 18 and could get press passes, my dad would put me on top of people’s motor homes in the field and I would shoot from there.” Now 47 years old, Rob has enjoyed full access to the famous raceway for years. “I love the feeling of being the closest person to 43 cars going by at 200 miles per hour and capturing them as they go by.”
His father also covered games for the Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers and Phillies for newspapers and as Rob explains it, his dad was generous with his time and talent. “He trained my mother, Dot, too, and she helped him cover games. She was the first female photographer for the Philadelphia teams and our family believes she was probably the first female photographer to shoot professional sports.”
Despite family influence and his extensive background in action photos, Rob has grown to appreciate many forms of photography in the classroom, including portraits, light painting and literally, making art. In the center of his classroom, a set of speakers is covered in plastic. Cans of paint are placed on top of the speakers and when music passes through, the paint cans bounce while students capture bursts of color.
On March 10, a number of Rob’s students will participate in the National Society of Arts and Letters (NSAL) Florida East Coast Chapter’s High School Photography Program Master Class and Exhibition. In its third year, the program is designed to showcase student photography and expose young artists to nationally acclaimed photographers and will be held again at Florida Atlantic University’s Theatre Lab in Boca Raton.
Boca Raton High served as the pilot school in the first year of NSAL’s photography program and it was such a success, it expanded to include four high schools. This year students will compete for Overall Best in Show, Best in Show (at each school) and eight other monetary award categories. The other participating schools are A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Jupiter Community High School and Pembroke Pines Charter High School. Rob says his students will be ready to compete. “NSAL requires students to prepare for competition and to bring their best. The competition is good for students.”
The NSAL photography exhibition will be judged by a panel of award-winning photojournalists that includes retired New York Times Photographer Stephen Crowley, who shared a 2002 Pulitzer Prize with a team of Times photographers covering the war in Afghanistan. It’s an opportunity Rob wouldn’t want students to miss. “They’ve been able to create and present their work on a larger platform with professionals in the field evaluating it and giving input on how students can improve and grow.”
Inside the classroom, Rob takes pride in opening doors that students never knew existed. “I had a group of three boys, who all attended college on baseball scholarships, and in no other circumstances would they consider themselves artists. But they all took photography for four years and found another passion beyond baseball.”
Rob considers it ironic that he started teaching photography the year after his father died, but odds are his students consider it a picture perfect legacy.
F – French fries or tater tots? French Fries (Chick-fil-A Waffle Fries)
R – Right brained or left brained? Right, my degree is in math
E – Email or carrier pigeon? Email, I have a postal phobia, hate to mail things
S – Sunshine or moonlight? Probably Moonshine, I’m a night owl and early riser but like afternoon naps
H – Homebody or party animal? House party! I love a party at my house.