Putting feelings into his pictures; Art: Randy Shropshire roamed the halls of the School for the Arts, capturing the spirit of his alma mater in photographs.


Randy Shropshire has tried to explain to his friends what it was like to attend a high school where Pinter trumps pompons.

"I felt like I couldn't really convey it. They didn't quite get it," says the 30-year-old alumnus of the Baltimore School for the Arts. "They were all telling me about their cheerleading and pep rallies and football and I was like, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' "

Since the L.A. photographer couldn't express his affinity for his football-free school through words, he decided to show it in pictures.

Shropshire has just completed a book that pays tribute to his alma mater. "A Place to Dream" (Nedlos, $30) includes his own black and white photos taken from 1996-1998 and writings from alums and staff.

"This was a little labor of love," says Shropshire who now works as a free-lance still photographer for film and television, but had a concentration on theater production while at BSA. "This is something I really wanted to do for the school."

The images in "A Place to Dream" range from adolescent actors in full makeup, to ballerinas in soft focus, to a panel of teachers looking haggard after hours of watching young auditioners.

Born in Northeast Baltimore, Shropshire attended Baltimore City College for a year before transferring to the arts school. After graduating in 1988, he worked as an assistant master electrician at Center Stage for a year, and then went on to the University of Miami, where he studied photojournalism and theater from 1989-1991.

After Miami, he concentrated on photography at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. It was photography that eventually took him to Hollywood.

It took this project to deliver him back to Baltimore.

For two years, from 1996-1998, Shropshire visited Baltimore monthly to compile his photos. He took nearly 10,000 shots, 200 of which ended up in the book. To create a more intimate feel, he used lenses and equipment that allowed him to get close to his subjects.

"I got really in there," he says, drawing attention to group shots of laughing, smiling students hanging out in the halls. "You have a feeling of actually being in that situation."

It took a couple visits for the students to get comfortable with "the random guy wandering around the halls and in our classes taking pictures," as Melody Johnson, class of '98, described him.

But Shropshire didn't limit his wandering to the halls.

"He actually came home with me," says Johnson, now a freshman voice major at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Johnson, who commuted more than four hours a day to attend the School for the Arts, was the subject of one of Shropshire's photo profiles. A two-page spread features her journey home. It begins at the Centre Street Light Rail station, at 4: 18 p.m., where she stands, coffee in hand, then follows her to the MARC train where she sits alone and studies, to the Metro, to her Washington doorstep at 6: 41 p.m..

"I wanted to show the amount of effort people put in to go to school here," says Shropshire.

Donald Hicken, head of the school's theater department, says Shropshire's concentration on individual students such as Johnson will clear up misconceptions of performing arts schools as affluent artistic communes where students burst into spontaneous hallway production numbers a la "Fame."

"He's captured the wonderful intimacy of this place," Hicken says.

During his stay at the school, Shropshire was voted both class clown and class flirt.

"I concentrated on what I needed to do as far as the work. Beyond that it was just a big goof fest for me. I was acting pretty silly the whole time."

In a bended rim baseball cap, baggy sweat shirt and jeans, Shropshire has the air of a former mischief maker. Revisiting the scenes of his escapades, he recalled old classmates, including actress Jada Pinkett. "I remember Jada's knuckles. She used to punch me all the time and I just remember her being a little firecracker."

However, his jovial expression darkens a little when discussing the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who was part of Shropshire's circle of friends. "He was nothing like what you saw on television or what people see in public. I was very surprised to see the persona they created."

The school is still pretty much the same, he says, though the old smoking lounge in the cafeteria is gone, and PCs have proliferated.

"There was one computer when I was here," says Shropshire, peering into a computer lab. "If someone said turn that on, or type a letter, I wouldn't know what to do."

Walking by the guidance counselor's office, he quips, "This was another hangout for me." The same, apparently, is true of the library. "I got in a lot of trouble here," he says. "I would jump around in here, chasing around girls."

But Shropshire's time at the arts school wasn't all hormones and high jinks.

"Luckily, I learned a lot here about the work ethic," he says. "You learn discipline here before you get to the places where you need twice as much if not more discipline to carry out your dreams."

And Shropshire believes he owes a large part of the patience and effort that brought "A Place to Dream" to life, to the very school it celebrates.

"I just really had to stop myself; quit going to movies; quit going out all the time, actually stop working on films," he says.

"I had to stop working for about three months to get this put together. I am so broke now, it's ridiculous."

Pub Date: 3/17/99

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