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After Semi-Nude Photos, Students Create 'Overprotected in Santa Monica'

Santa Monica High School students collaborate on a new project about censorship months after their photography teacher's removal over semi-nude portraits taken by students on campus.

Allan Barnes is , but he hasn't stopped teaching.

After his removal from the classroom in December amid controversy over , he has helped them churn out a new art new project about censorship and "overprotection."

He and about a dozen of his former Samohi students are the subjects of a collage of black and white headshots, most of them pictured with blindfolds or tape over their mouths. In collaboration with a worldwide art project titled “Inside Out,” the headshots were printed onto 3-foot by 4.5-foot posters to be mounted outside local art galleries.

The idea for “Overprotected in Santa Monica” came about while Barnes was teaching an informal weekly Saturday class for former students organized with help from his parent supporters. His departure from the classroom was brought to light by the students and their parents who demanded his reinstatement during a protest in February at school district headquarters. 

“The name of the project seemed very appropriate considering what happened,” said Barnes.

He was placed on paid administrative leave after faculty members found portraits on the school district's server taken by a high school senior for her college portfolio of a teenage couple embracing while partially-nude. After the discovery, Barnes said two of his students had semi-nude portraits removed from a campus photography show, the first of its kind to be produced by Samohi in at least a decade, he said.

"When the show opened, I think I was on top of the world and I think my students were too," Barnes said. "And it all came crashing down a few days later."

Barnes was hired as a probationary teacher Sept. 3, 2010. He taught two levels of photography classes an earned the respect and admiration of students. Administrators reportedly accused him of affording students too much privacy in the on-campus studio during lunchtime and after school.

Their parents called his dismissal a "debacle." Many told the Board of Education in February that the incident should have been used as an opportunity for students to learn about photography and the law.

"Overprotected in Santa Monica" shows the "uncomfortableness" he and the students felt after the fact, he said.

"In my case, I am wearing black tape over my mouth because the school administration forbid me from communicating with anybody," Barnes said. "The only other time I have felt that level of discomfort was when I was kidnapped about 14 years ago while living in Mexico City."

In other headshots, students look frustrated and dismayed. In one, a girl's headphones are snipped by scissors. 

Barnes is awaiting permission from local galleries, such as those at , where he hopes to mount the posters.

He will remain on paid administrative leave through the end of the school year, but will not return to Samohi in the fall. 

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Stodj May 01, 2012 at 06:33 PM
What a frustrating situation for the students. So little communication to these students, and no explanation as to why their actions resulted in their teacher's expulsion from the classroom. Thank goodness for this wonderful teacher who has assisted them in having this creative teaching moment. I can't wait to see these huge photos expressing the student's feelings during this bureaucratic time displayed Inside OR Outside in Santa Monica, Venice or LA. Love the worldwide project. Santa Monica is blessed to have this opportunity!!!
marcopolo May 02, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Agree, good to see the students not taking this lightly either and continuing with an inspired project. Having your freedom of expression trounced upon is not something we should turn our attention from or shy away from.
Stodj May 09, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Just think about it. These students are creating. In the figure drawing classes there are live models-whenever they can afford to get one- the human body is the basis of all great art and is the starting point. These students are preparing for colleges that are highly competitive and expect artists to do challenging work. These students were doing just that and got shut down. Not alright.

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