Placer High photographer's work displayed in gallery

Senior project selected for PlacerArts show
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
-A +A

When visitors view the photos displayed in the Side Gallery in The Arts Building these days, they tend to get very quiet.

“They study the work for a long time,” said Angela Tahti, executive director of PlacerArts. “They pause and take them in one by one.”

The stark black-and-white prints were taken by 17-year-old Molly Barrett, a senior at Placer High School. The collection, “Emotion of the Human Notion,” is the culmination of her senior project. The portraits, on display until Jan. 7, depict the elderly and homeless of Northern California.
“People with a lot of character is what I call it,” Molly said. “People whose character emanates from their demeanor and their appearance.”

Molly has had an interest in photography since she was 10 years old, according to her mother, Kristen Barrett. Molly was given a mini-Polaroid as a young girl, and she has been happily clicking away since then. Molly’s dad, Tom Barrett, remembers his daughter out in the backyard with her camera, taking photos of morning dew and insects.

For her senior project, Molly aimed to capture the emotion and personality of people she felt had a lot of character, reflected in their unique appearances.

“The portraits in this show literally define character: the accumulation of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person, place or thing,” reads a press release from PlacerArts. “It comes from experience, it comes with age and it comes with joys and hardships. No matter how it comes, we should embrace it because it makes us who we are.”

Molly found her subjects through her father, a physical therapist in a rehabilitation facility, and at the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church, which opens its facility to the homeless for showers and meals. Some she found while taking breaks during trips to the Bay Area for soccer games, when Tom Barrett would accompany his daughter to ask people to pose for a photo.

“I approach them with a really big smile, and my camera, and I’ll start the conversation with, ‘Hi, my name’s Molly. How are you doing?’” Molly said. “After I talk to them for a little bit, I ask if it would be OK if I took their pictures. Either they’re a little bit skeptical, or they’re really excited.”

Tom Barrett said watching his daughter grow as a photographer was yet another source of pride inspired by his only child.
“She’s a teenager, but she’s a bit timid as far as talking to people,” he said. “The whole process of just watching her come out of her shell was awesome.”

“Awesome” is the same word Tahti uses to describe Molly, both as a photographer and a professional.

Molly was proactive in approaching the gallery committee about applying for gallery space, Tahti said, and was polite and thorough during the process. That included meeting deadlines and working with gallery manager Shawn Baldwin, her senior project mentor.

Molly’s organizational skills aside, Tahti said, her skills as a photographer are just as impressive.

“First of all, the subject matter,” she said. “Daring to endeavor in a project like that, where it was really such a human story that she mined, and in such a dignified way, to work with these individuals that she photographed.”

Kristen Barrett said she was unsure about the outcome of the project when Molly first suggested it, thinking people might not be interested in viewing pictures of elderly and homeless people. Her doubts proved to be unfounded.

“It taught me a lesson that she obviously knows exactly what she wants to do,” Kristen Barrett said, “because the pictures are so powerful.”

The 21 portraits were shot with a Nikon D3100 digital camera, a far cry from that mini-Polaroid. She got her first digital camera when she was a sophomore, and taught herself how to use it.

In addition to being a photographer and athlete, Molly is the editor of the Placer High School yearbook and an honor student. Molly said she plans to continue photography in the future, with plans to attend Sierra College next year and eventually transfer to a university, where she’ll study photography.

“Capturing a moment in time, forever, is really interesting,” Molly said.

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at


Emotion of the Human Notion
What: Photography by Molly Barrett
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Jan. 7
Where: The Arts Building Gallery, 808 Lincoln Way, Auburn
Information: (530) 885-5670,