One small dip into the world of helping can lead to amazing opportunities to not only assist members of your community but enrich your life beyond belief. Today I had a small glimpse at how that might very well be about to happen in my life. An organization I volunteered to help with an event, within the first weeks of moving here, may now be the opportunity I have sought to work with children and photography.
Photography opens doors in people’s hearts when they pick up a camera with the intent to tell a story of their lives. My first knowledge of the healing skills of photography in the hands of people on the edges of society came from “Reality from the Barrio, The photography and prose of native Santa Fe youth–from censorship to survival.”
The program that this book grew out of was a project of the Photography Program of the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club. The director of that club says, “What became apparent through the process was that these youth have talent. And when they began to realize this, they really began to shine: they exuded self-confidence and began to see themselves as artists rather than kids.”
Another example was the work of Zana Briski with her project “Kids with Cameras”, giving cameras to children of a brothel in India. Here is a brief excerpt from Paul Hawken’s introduction of the book. “This work gives us a way to see, regardless of empty platitudes, that children are authentic totems of hope in this world, and the poorest offer us the most hope of all …. Despite their privation, these children can sing, dance, and reimagine the world. There is a puckish brilliance in their unstudied art, a profound insight about the illusory quality of the “real world.” What have we achieved in life if we lose these insights and gifts?”
A few years back I taught two six-week courses on the photo essay to middle school kids in a private academy. First hand I learned what both of the above-mentioned projects discovered: children who can express their emotions, fears, joys and insecurities through photography, or any art, are opened up to the healing that comes with that expression. They are given hope in a situation that before felt hopeless.
You might ask yourself the question, “What makes it such a big deal for the participants in these programs to see themselves as artists instead of kids.” Kids feel powerless in environments such as this Santa Fe barrio and the brothels of India. In the situation of the private academy, one young girl was able to express her strong need for love and beauty during a war between her divorcing parents that created a moment of clarity in her mother.
When a kid learns new things and realizes that there are ways to live a good life outside of an environment that up to this point has been nothing but death, drugs and drudgery, there is hope. And hope is what is missing in an environment like a barrio or brothel or home with a bad domestic situation.