Wilton is a town of high-achieving students–scholastically, athletically, artistically. The role teachers play is most definitely impactful.

The Wilton Education Foundation created an award to honor one of its founders, Christopher “Kit” Smith, that would commemorate this collaborative nature of learning by recognizing both the student and the teacher. The first awardees are a Wilton High School senior named Luiza Goncalves, an advanced photography student, and her teacher Sue Brandt.

The award is a grant to allow the student to pursue independent study, enrichment, research, or another project befitting the WEF mission and complementing the Wilton Public Schools missions, with work completed before the fall of the student’s senior year. At the conclusion of the project, the student will be expected to display results.

Luiza’s photos are now on display at the gallery at Wilton’s Rockwell Art and Framing (379 Danbury Rd.). They are primarily from her portfolio that she built during the AP 2-D photography class she took during junior year. “My concentration was the contrast of twins and trees as a metaphor of the duality of nature. The other pieces with the line drawings are kind of experimental–a lot of my work is experimental, I play around and I layer and draw over them,” she explains.

Brandt explains she nominated Luiza because of her abilities and talent, but more importantly because of the drive she had to improve.

“Luiza’s a very motivated student and wants to learn. There were particular things–she wanted to improve her photoshop skills, she wanted to work with a program called Light Room, and how to do certain effects. She worked with an infrared camera, a special camera that photographs more than the eye can see. Not many photographers are working with it, and it’s very unusual. Things are dreamy and surreal, and you have to process the photos differently than regular film.”

Luiza’s inspirations are very organic, and she’s been enthralled with cameras since an early age.

“I’m a very self-aware person, I have a hard time getting out of my head. I look at everything in a very cinematic way, the details. I think that translates in my work, I’m always looking and thinking. I’ve seen a lot of movies and have been exposed to a lot of art,” she says.

Part of the award required Luiza to show her work in a public location. Her teacher helped contact the Rockwell Gallery, coincidentally right next to the school, and they accepted.

“I feel very grateful, especially being in this gallery–it’s very surreal. I’m ecstatic, when someone looks at your work and appreciates it,” Luiza said, as she stood next to her work and was surrounded by a packed house of friends, family and art lovers who attended the show’s opening on Oct. 9.

At the same time, Luiza credits the support she’s received at the high school.

“There’s a great art department there, and a lot of my teachers at the high school. They see something in me, and to have a student that cares and talks. I appreciate that. It’s great to have this connection with [Ms. Brandt] and the other teachers.”

The exhibition at Rockwell is also an opportunity to showcase a different side of Luiza’s work–there’s a side gallery of photos she and two other student photographers (Kate Bell and Grace DeLuca) took at an Acoustic Wilton performance last year. About 200 photos the three took from the performance were shown in a slide show during the opening party, and a handful of prints remain during the monthlong exhibition of Luiza’s major works.

Even having taught for 14 years at WHS, Brandt says she was impressed with Luiza’s originality and skill.

“I’ve worked with a lot of talented students, but this technique, I’ve never even seen a professional photographer use it, incorporating drawing and the photography. She’s working with a tablet and working with Photoshop. It’s a unique look.”

Brandt admires some other aspects in Luiza’s work. “She has a great feel for working with layers, combining photographs,” she explains, pointing to one that layers both an infrared and traditional image.

Having a student who is so ambitious and eager to soak up more and more is rewarding for Brandt. “It’s motivating and there are so many techniques you can do in photography. I’m so excited to be able to share, because I’m always learning.” Brandt said WEF has been generous to her as well, bestowing grants for her to learn new skills during the summer. “That’s how I learned infrared, and Photoshop and Lightroom. When I was in college, it was film. This is a different world for me, too. If I’m teaching, I need to keep learning. New things keep developing. And I love working with students.”

Brandt says the coursework is popular at the high school, and she tries to let the children accommodate the curriculum based on their own interests.

“We’ll photograph sports, the kids in the nursery school, or take a trip to the zoo. And I’ll say, ‘You might love animal photography, and the kids will be tough for you to photograph, while other kids might enjoy photographing sports.’ I was more into taking pictures of nature, so I’ve taken classes on photographing models, because you need experience in how to direct and how to light models–there are a lot of students that want to do fashion photography. I learned that in the last couple of years.”

Many of Luiza’s images are for available for purchase. The show, entitled “Beginning,” runs through Nov. 9.