There is so much power in photography, as the old adage goes: A picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine if you did more than just create a photograph? Imagine if you taught a generation of people how to tell a story with a camera? Would you?
I have, and find it terribly rewarding! Well perhaps not an entire generation, but I have worked with some awesome teenagers in the Seattle area. Let me just say, it’s truly wonderful to see what can happen when you work with young curious minds.
I have mentored with a Seattle area non-profit, Youth In Focus whose mission is to empower urban youth, through photography, to experience their world in new ways and to make positive choices for their lives.
Youth In Focus offers film and digital photography classes at different levels; this includes a full darkroom and a digital lab. It’s a kind of after-school program, providing a lot of these kids an opportunity to have a creative outlet that may not be available to them through their schools. Students are issued a camera, film/media and receive assignments weekly. There are also field trips to local museums and even photowalks.
One of our outings was at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Some of the kids in the group hadn’t been to the market before, this made for a great opportunity to see the market as well for them to have access to us while taking photographs, real time. The bonus was that we teachers and mentors take photos too.
During my time with Youth in Focus, I worked with three different groups of students. Each group was amazing and entertaining too! The best moments are a round table discussion of each student’s images. Every week they select, edit, and print their favourite image from the previous week’s assignment. They may ask for guidance in selecting that image, especially in the beginning of the classes, as they’re just learning. You’ll find the best way to help them is to ask questions about the story they’re trying to tell or how they believe the composition could be better, etc. The goal is to get them talking about it, get them involved.
Connecting with the students via the art they’re creating is so powerful; seeing their improvement each week makes you proud. You’re excited for what’s to come and where they’re going to take it. It’s an experience not yet matched by any work I’ve done in my professional life. Perhaps if I were a full-time teacher I’d feel that, every day. I imagine you’ll get as much, if not more out of the experience if you try it.
At the end of each quarter the kids select their best one or two images to display as a part of an open house show. There’s a potluck dinner, and a gallery of images to view from each class. It’s so impressive to see what these kids create.