Photographer Christy Schuler shares her digital photographs with two young girls 
in foster care.

Photographer Christy Schuler shares her digital photographs with two young girls in foster care.

The Heart Gallery of Santa Barbara County.

At Brooks Institute’s Cota Street Gallery. Shows through November 21.

Since its arrival on the Santa Barbara art exhibition scene, one of the greatest virtues of Brooks Institute’s Cota Street Gallery has been its willingness to embrace the photographic medium’s full range of techniques and aesthetics. From x-rays of deformed vertebrates to the kaleidoscope of colors found in the markets and wildernesses of far-off places, exhibitions in this space have run the photographic gamut. The gallery’s current exhibition of images from the Heart Gallery of Santa Barbara County covers new territory yet again in an emotive series of color and black-and-white portraits of local children and families from the county’s foster and adoptive programs.

The exhibition draws together the talents of eight photographers, most of whom have some association with Brooks Institute. Their contributions to the Heart Gallery form part of a nationwide undertaking designed to bring awareness to foster care programs, and to dispel the myths and negative connotations associated with foster families. The images that adorn the walls are not those of repressed youth lost within a faceless system, but a collection of beautiful images celebrating the spirit and empowerment of the children in question and the families that have embraced them and taken them into their lives. More than a documentary show, the Heart Gallery is a celebration of family life.

Many of the images included align themselves with the type of portraiture one might see hanging on the walls or resting on the mantel of a family home, and therein lies the power of this project. These are families; not biological ones, perhaps, but those formed through love and will and desire.

The exhibition is curated by Cota Street Gallery Coordinator Russ McConnell, who is also the instigator of the Heart Gallery’s Santa Barbara installment. McConnell is also a Brooks instructor specializing in children’s portraiture, and his empathy and expertise have guided the project to become an enchanting visual record of the love that can exist between children and those who care for them.

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