Education is a complicated business, one that can bog down in data, jargon and pedagogy that are critical for practitioners but difficult to share with laypeople. Sometimes they are easier to illustrate than explain. The look on a student’s face might not detail how or why it happened, but it can certainly reveal a light bulb switching on.

The DMPS Communications & Public Affairs Department has the enviable task of capturing and sharing those and the myriad other moments of magic and discovery that happen regularly across a district that serves 33,000 students in 64 schools.

The public is invited to The Timeless Essence of Education: Photography by Des Moines Public Schools, which will feature some of the finest examples of this work on display at the downtown central library at 1000 Grand Avenue from August 27 through September 26. An opening reception is scheduled for Thursday, August 29 from 5:00 to 6:30 PM.

“A big focus of our communications work at DMPS is to bring people into our schools to see the good work of our students and teachers that takes place every day,” said DMPS Communications Director Phil Roeder, who curated the collection along with DMPS photographer Jon Lemons. “We place a strong emphasis on high quality photography. We try to capture authentic pictures of the day-to-day events throughout the district. And, in a district that serves as many students as our two largest state universities, we have a lot to cover, from the first day of preschool to high school graduation.”

There are more than 52,000 photos currently in the district’s Flickr archive. The exhibit will consist of only 48.

“In short, I look for natural moments that show students and educators at their best,” said Lemons. “Sifting through 52,000 photos was like sifting through the hundreds I take for each shoot. Every moment is different. It’s subjective, but there’s also logic to what works and what doesn’t. It’s looking for the most significant moment combined with the right recipe of light and focus and composition to produce an image that makes a viewer think or react.”

Schools are a fertile ground for photography, providing a panoramic range of settings and subjects, from academics to athletics; fine arts to Fun Night(s); nervous pre-Ks to celebratory grads. The mosaic they comprise can be shared across various platforms.

“Our photography is used in many different ways, from our web site to social media to advertising to newsletters and…earns recognition for its quality, said Roeder. “We’ve even had the opportunity to present to national organizations like the Council of Great City Schools, to help our peers improve their photography work. I’m excited that we’re able host this back-to-school exhibit and share some of our favorite images with the community.”

Please join us on August 27 if you can or visit the exhibit at your convenience through September 26.


The Timeless Essence of Education photography exhibit is at the Central Library in downtown Des Moines at 1000 Grand Avenue. The library’s gallery is located on the second floor. The exhibit will be on display from Tuesday, August 27 through Thursday, September 26 and is open to the public during normal library hours:

  • Sunday:  1 PM – 5 PM
  • Monday: 9 AM – 8 PM
  • Tuesday: 9 AM – 8 PM
  • Wednesday: 9 AM – 8 PM
  • Thursday: 9 AM – 8 PM
  • Friday: 9 AM – 6 PM
  • Saturday: 10 AM – 5 PM

Can’t Make it to the Exhibit? Check Out the Online Gallery
DMPS Photo Exhibit

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