Family, faith, education focus a young photographer

At 16, Sophie Macalusi has used her photography skills to chronicle a rally to honor the 1963 March on Washington and to assist the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
Photo by Amy Raab

ANNAPOLIS — If Annapolis resident Sophie Macaluso has a big challenge, it’s choosing from among so many activities where to focus. And focusing her camera — the Canon she works with — was the biggest draw over this past summer break.

In late summer, Sophie, 16, could be found photographing Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy for WRNR-FM the day of the solar eclipse, as he was disembarking at City Dock to perform a few songs; capturing the speakers and attendees at an Annapolis rally to honor the 54th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; and working behind the scenes on the campaign of local restaurateur and mayoral candidate Gavin Buckley.

Between Sophie’s upbringing, her faith — she and her family attend Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Naval Academy, with midshipmen and local residents — and her schooling — she’s a student at Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City, where father Kevin Macaluso teaches history — she feels inspired to bear witness to local politics, the health of the Chesapeake Bay and local social and economic justice arenas.
Sophie’s mother, Amy Raab, is a photographer, but it was Sophie who chose to explore the medium through two “Fearless Photography” courses with photographer Alison Harbaugh at ArtFarm Annapolis.

She brought her camera to Annapolis voice teacher Jeremy Ragsdale’s Lead Singer class and took pictures. Eventually, that translated into photographing Ragsdale’s vocalists at the First Sunday Arts Festival and other photo opportunities.

Although Sophie picked up the camera on her own, Raab guided her toward her bat mitzvah.

“At the beginning I was super upset at my mom for making me do all the work, but at the end it was an amazing gathering and brought both sides of my family together,” said Macaluso. Her mother’s side is Jewish and her father’s is Catholic. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

Though Sophie did not work toward confirmation, she assisted a Temple Aleph Bet teacher in preparing children for their b’nai mitzvah. Now, she is helping younger sister Eliza prepare for her bat mitzvah.

This past summer, she interned with the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), photographing the recovery lifecycle — from edible oyster and recovery of the shell to shell-washing, shell-aging, reseeding and replanting.

“We had a need to really build up our database of images,” said ORP marketing director Kate Cwiek. “A lot of what we do is on a large scale, and it’s hard to wrap your head around that. [Sophie] did a really good job capturing the big picture.”

In the political arena, Sophie has helped the campaign of Annapolis mayoral candidate Gavin Buckley.

For a campaign that has tried to make politics fun, Sophie and her style have fit right in, he said. In addition to photography, Sophie has worked on social media and a radio ad script and helped organize Barkers for Buckley, a “get out the bark” event for canines.

“I want this town to be dynamic enough that kids will stay around,” said Buckley, to leave and have an adventure, but then “come home, start businesses and affect the agenda.”

Sophie could be one of those future residents. For her junior year, she’s eager to work with the Model Congress Club she helped found. Through the club, she wants to create a news briefing for students that eliminates bias by integrating different viewpoints in current events coverage. After the presidential election, she said, students were often defensive, saying they weren’t into politics and didn’t want to talk about it.

“We’re 16, 17 years old,” she said. “We’ll be able to vote in two years.”

A news briefing would be work enough, but Sophie plans to assist the field hockey team, run track, work on the student council, continue singing and launch a nonprofit to teach photography to economically disadvantaged teens in Annapolis who could then parlay that skill into paid opportunities.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said.

Returning to Glenelg, Sophie has a lot to share. The day after the civil rights rally that commemorated the March on Washington, she teamed up with photographer Allison Zaucha to visit Newtowne 20, a neighborhood with subsidized housing where Zaucha was offering free family portraits for residents.
Listening to their conversations, Sophie understood that outsiders often foist things on communities without having a clear understanding of residents’ needs.

“Even in national news, a lot of times people that aren’t Jewish come in and speak on the Jewish person’s behalf,” she said. “It’s great to have allies, but it’s hard to know what a community needs without being surrounded by the people — to be able to fix problems from the outside.”

In other words — to be humble and listen. That work has gotten Sophie thinking about how vital it is to have group conversations with students of different backgrounds at Glenelg, something she hopes to foster once a month or every other month at her school “to see what we can do.”

Leigh Glenn is an Annapolis-based writer.

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