Carol MacKay uses photographs to illustrate the importance of preschool

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Local chemistry teacher-turned-photographer Carol MacKay thinks the Denver Preschool Program is so important that she donated her time and talent to the traveling Power of Preschool photography exhibit, currently on display in the Wells Fargo Center atrium through April 30.

See also: Scott Zbryk pushes the boundaries with his three-dimensional drawings

"I think any more preschool is really the beginning of a child's formal education," says Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program, a sales tax-funded initiative promoting access to high-quality preschool for all local children, regardless of socio-economic status. "This exhibit of thirty photographs offers a compelling visual story of why preschool is important to a child's future." Carol MacKay was one of five photographers who visited area preschools in order to capture the preschool experience, helping to create an exhibit that profiles four-year-olds during the 2012-2013 school year and illustrates how early childhood education "lays the academic foundation for language arts, math and science while nurturing social skills and emotional literacy," as Landrum puts it. A former chemistry teacher, MacKay is now a staff photographer for Kent Denver School and owner of Carol MacKay Photography. Her contribution to The Power of Preschool offers a glimpse into the lives of children at Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Center.

"Kids love being engaged and interested, involved, et cetera," says MacKay. "There's nothing kids like less than being bored." During her time at Temple Emanuel, MacKay was impressed by how engaged and involved the children were. "It's a wonderful preschool, and I could feel the kindness and trust of the teachers," she continues. "The kids felt comfortable interacting, moving around, doing things."

"I think capturing moments in time is precious, says MacKay, who rediscovered her passion for photography after her daughter was murdered; in the wake of the tragedy, she took time off from teaching and picked up a camera.

"I haven't been doing this for very long," she notes. "I'm a teacher who picked up a camera."

But what MacKay lacks in long-term training she easily makes up for in talent; she has an innate ability to capture movement -- and more. "What I'd like to hear," she says, "Is that I can capture expression -- what people are really thinking." Keep reading for more photographs by Carol MacKay And MacKay is good at that, too; she specializes in photographing people. She's done senior pictures, family portraits, and "I've even shot Broncos," she says, describing one photo she nabbed of Peyton Manning (below) calling a play. "All of a sudden the defensive line opened up and gave me a window," MacKay explains. Nobody else got the shot. The photographer has brushed shoulders with other bigwigs, too. She spent an evening with Bill Clinton, taking the photographs for a school event. She also photographed Michelle Obama at a private fundraiser. Right now, MacKay's renowned for her "wall of pictures" at Kent Denver. The project was designed to capture whatever is happening at the school, and MacKay rotates her selection frequently. MacKay's background in science has influenced her art tremendously. "I think the fact that I can figure anything out in chemistry helps me figure things out in photography," she explains. When MacKay was first learning her new craft, she took a few workshops here and there; she picked up on photography quickly and especially enjoys "thinking through solutions," she says, drawing from another skill she learned from years of chemistry.

Being a teacher has also helped, since knowing how to interact with people is an important part of any photograph.

In the Denver Preschool Program exhibit, a partnership with Mile High United Way, MacKay is joined by CBS4 photojournalist and producer Kevin Hartfield, who photographed Family Flex Early Education Center; 29-year-veteran of the Denver Post John Leyba, whose shots depict Escuela Tlatelolco Circulo Montessori; former Denver Post reporter Sheba Wheeler; and local philanthropist Heather Smith, who caught life at DPS's Goldrick Elementary School.

The Power of Preschool was first exhibited at the Denver Central Library last year; it then moved to the Denver International Airport and the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building before arriving at its current location. "Our intention is that it will travel around Denver," says Landrum.

For more information on the Denver Preschool Program, visit the organization's website.

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