Lauren Valentine freaked out the first time she saw her mug on the Sarasota bayfront.
“I was like ‘Omigod! My face is huge!’” Valentine muses. “My eyeball is the size of my head!”
A senior at Pine View School, Valentine, 18, is not an attention-seeker. Some might even call her shy, including her mother, Denise Valentine, who says her daughter, in most situations, prefers to “fade into the background.”
A mild-mannered overachiever, quietly (and wildly) artistic, Valentine is a member of the Honor Society and president of Pine View’s Art Honor Society. She’s so unconcerned with seeking the spotlight that a friend recently went behind her back and created a Lauren Valentine Facebook fan page as a practical joke.
Ironically, Valentine’s unauthorized Facebook profile photo — an image of the teen with her hand in front of her face — is similar to “Be You,” the billboard-sized photograph of Valentine currently on display in the outdoor art exhibit “Embracing Our Differences” at Island Park.
“I was kind of shocked and mildly embarrassed when I saw it,” Valentine says of the peek-a-boo self portrait she created for Retsy Lauer’s AP art class. “I never expected it would get picked for something like this.”
The message and image are simple: Be you. Getting the perfect shot, however, was not so simple.
To capture her desired perspective, Valentine used her unpainted hand to steady her Canon Rebel (a Christmas present from her parents) against the French doors on her porch. Holding her painted palm out in front of her face, she snapped two-dozen digital photos until her fingers were centered in the frame.
She chose green paint for no specific reason, other than she thought it was a nice color. And she opted to hide behind her hand because she liked the idea of juxtaposing a message and an image.
“Obviously this show is about accepting people for who they are,” Valentine says. “My family has always encouraged me to do whatever I want, not just what’s popular. Some parents have paths for their kids. Mine always told me to do my best and do what I love and that was good enough.”
This year, organizers of the annual exhibit received more than 2,000 art submissions from 43 different countries. Valentine’s was one of 39 pieces featured.
According to “Embracing Our Differences” Executive Director Michael Shelton, Valentine’s photo could have easily been rejected. After seven years of celebrating diversity and unity on the bayfront, judges have seen their fair share of peace signs and hands — but there was something about Valentine’s hand that stood out.
“At this stage in the game, there are certain components that work against you, recurring themes we see year after year that get set aside because we’ve been there, done that,” Shelton says. “Lauren’s piece was simple and conveyed exactly what we strive to teach children who pass through the park: Respect others and respect yourself. ‘Be You’ is a simplified version of that message.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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