I just spent two weeks teaching a portrait and self-portrait photography workshop to students at the “Through the Eyes of Hope” project in Kigali, Rwanda. “Through the Eyes of Hope” was started by photojournalist, Linda Smith, in 2006 and is a wonderful program that empowers kids through photography, allows them to express themselves creatively and also enables them to earn a bit of money through the studio they run where they primarily provide passport photos for locals. The students’ work has been shown in exhibits in both Rwanda and the US.
When I first arrived in Kigali, I had no idea what to expect. During my first few days of teaching, I presented some techniques for creating portraits and self-portraits to the students and showed them lots of images that illustrated the techniques. It immediately struck me how engaged they were with the images I was showing them. We talked a lot about composition, lighting, altering one’s visual perspective, using props, choosing interesting backgrounds, using reflections, finding good door or window light etc. I soon had them standing on tables, shooting from the ground, seeking out colorful walls in the neighborhood and generally experimenting with the techniques we’d talked about. It was quite a sight–the group of us carrying cameras and a big reflector around the neighborhood, often attracting interested crowds. There were many lovely moments, lots of laughter and general joy in these photographic adventures.
Over the course of the workshop, we worked on a collaborative portrait assignment, a portrait assignment and a self portrait assignment. They approached all three with great enthusiasm and I was touched by many of the images they created over the course of the workshop, some of which you will see below. The collaborative portrait assignment images, which were all shot in the studio, encouraged them to think about who they are and how they wanted to portray themselves visually. These images will be featured in a separate blog post. Some of their own self-portraits, which followed this assignment, are below.
On Saturday, the last day of the workshop, I showed the students a final slide show of their edited images. I think they were excited about the work they’d produced. We had a little celebratory party and I recorded them singing together for an audio slideshow I plan to put together about the workshop. Between their beautiful voices rising up in the studio, looking at their creative work and saying our goodbyes, I felt such a sense of joy and connectedness and knew, without a doubt, I’d be back.
The younger siblings of my students played a really important part in our workshop, often holding equipment or posing as subjects for the photos. Towards the end of the workshop, I came out of the studio only to discover they had made their own "cameras" out of styrofoam and other bits and pieces. They were enthusiastically photographing everything in their path, including me. They had even used bottle caps as shutter buttons! I was so moved by their creativity and was happy to see their interest in photography playing out in this wonderful way. I have no doubt they will be the next generation of "Through the Eyes of Hope" students.
Here are a selection of images made by the students during the workshop: