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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Wake Campus provides veterans an outlet for healing with photography

Claire Geriak
Bill (sitting) and Steve Espinosa show all smiles in the photography lab on Feb. 13 at City College’s Wake Campus in Santa Barbara, Calif. The retired first responder and veteran host a digital photography class designated for retired veterans, first responders, and their spouses with photo equipment provided by Canon USA.

At City College’s Wake campus, veterans and first responders gather twice a week to learn about and practice photography. The class is offered through the School of Extended Learning – an extension of City College that offers classes to a diverse adult population. 

The digital photography class, exclusively designed for veterans, first responders, and their spouses, has become an outlet for their healing and self-expression.

Terence Ford, brother of actor Harrison Ford, and his fStop Foundation originally started the class at Camp Pendleton in the San Diego area. He hoped to create a healing experience for wounded veterans to escape and heal trauma. 

Ford later moved the class to City Colleges School of Extended Learning in 2019, where the course was named, “Digital Photography: Techniques and Creative Applications in a Community-Oriented Setting.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ford decided it was time to hand the class over to two of his former students. Brothers Bill and Steve Espinosa assumed the role of instructors after they completed the class, hoping to extend the support they had previously received to their fellow veterans.

Bill Espinosa is an army veteran who later had a corporate career and got his doctorate in education at Loyola Marymount College. Steve Espinosa is a Vietnam veteran who later worked as a firefighter for the Santa Barbara City Fire Department before taking the course.

Steve says that he and his brother “have always been interested in photography,” but “ it’s not so much the photography.”

“I get satisfaction if these guys understand that this is for them,” he said. “It’s a thank you for them.”

The introductory course gives students access to cameras, printers, computers, and software, all of which are donated by Canon and the SBCC Foundation

Students can use their own cameras or the provided ones to capture their photos. They then upload photos to City College computers, where they learn editing using photoshop software. After the photos are digitally perfected, Canon’s professional printers allow them to print their final work.

“I want to teach this class because I want these guys to know that people are thinking of them and care about them,” Bill Espinosa said. “Canon, City College and everybody that supports us.”

Rudy Gomez, a Vietnam veteran, is in his fourth year taking the class. He continues to enroll because “there is always something new to learn.” 

“I’m constantly going through these little therapy sessions,” Gomez said. “This is therapy for me. It’s nice to be part of a group of veterans and first responders who have lived it.” 

At the end of each semester, the students hold a gallery in the Harold Thornton Auditorium on Wake Campus to display their work. This is the first year they have held an exhibit outside the auditorium.

At the end of the 2023 fall semester, students had the opportunity to showcase their work in the Faulkner Main Gallery at the Santa Barbara Public Library. The exhibit was held for the entire month of January. 

“I went back to the exhibit at least three times,” Air Force veteran Chuck Frazier said. “I took my daughter once, my sister came up to see it, and my other daughter came up to see it. The most encouraging part was that they were holding classes for ‘mommy and me’ and they were sitting there in this area with our pictures all around, and all of the little kids were looking at our photos. It was really a great sense of pride.”

The Espinosa brother’s willingness to give back to the community drives the class. 

“I want these guys to understand that they serve their community and they serve their country, and people appreciate it,” Steve Espinosa said. 

This class would not be made possible without support from Canon and the SBCC Foundation.  Both Bill and Steve express their immense gratitude to both donors for their contributions to the program.

New students can register by emailing Bill Espinosa, [email protected] or Steve Espinosa, [email protected].

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