Posted on February 18, 2015
After my experience last year teaching photography to students at the “Through the Eyes of Hope” program in Kigali, Rwanda, I knew without a doubt that I had to come back. For those of you who didn’t see my blog post last year, here’s a bit of back story. “Through the Eyes of Hope” was founded by photojournalist, Linda Smith, in 2006 and is wonderful program that seeks to empower kids through photography. The program not only enables them to express themselves creatively but also means they can 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.
After I left Rwanda last year, I was determined to get more cameras for the kids to use since they were sharing three consumer-level cameras. I approached fellow professional photographers as well as local Cape Cod camera shop, Orleans Camera, about donating older generation cameras that they no longer used. I was so touched by the generous response I received and was thrilled to be able to send six professional-level digital SLRs with lenses and cf cards back to Rwanda.
What drew me back to Rwanda after last year’s experience was the kids’ enthusiasm, appreciation, exploding creativity and complete lack of entitlement. When I arrived at the airport three weeks ago, I was joyfully greeted by four of my students and received big, welcoming hugs. Since arriving, I’ve been training the students on the donated cameras, pushing them to improve their technical skills and also working on capturing “moments”. Since there are few photo studios in Kigali, we’ve especially been focused on improving their studio skills since they’re in unique position to offer professional studio photos to clients at a reasonable price. Together we worked towards preparing for an “open studio” day which we decided to make on Valentine’s Day, during which we would offer community members a free photo session and print. The idea behind this was to show the community the amazing work the students can do, create some positive PR for the studio and hopefully create some future customers.
During the days before Valentine’s day, the students had several assignments to create interesting studio portraits. I was thrilled with how enthusiastically they approached this task and what beautiful work came out of these assignments, some of which you will see below. When Valentine’s day arrived, I knew they were ready. Word spread quickly about what we were offering and we soon had a steady flow of community members coming in for the photo session and print. I was so happy and moved to see the customers’ consistently smiling responses when we handed them the glossy 4×6 print. Of course I was also elated to see what good work the students were producing, some of which is included below.
Beyond working together on their photography skills, we also made several field trips. The first was to Nyamata Church, a genocide memorial site where 10,000 Rwandans were brutally murdered during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Only seven people survived the attacks at Nyamata and these were all children who went unnoticed because they were hidden under adult bodies. None of the students had ever visited the site before. While they’ve grown up learning about the genocide at school, I thought seeing the memorial site in person would be powerful for them as well as for me and open up a dialog about Rwanda’s painful past. It did turn out to be a very difficult but meaningful experience for us all which I don’t really think words can describe.
Then, last weekend, some of the students joined me for a trip to Akagera National Park about two and a half hours from Kigali which again, most of them had never visited. Having grown up in South Africa myself, visiting the wilderness and seeing South Africa’s incredible wildlife was such a rich part of my childhood and it pained me to think that these Rwandan students had never seen the rich wildlife in their own country. It was wonderful to see their excited reaction to zebras, giraffes, hippos, a crocodile and the many other amazing wild animals we saw during our visit.
As my time with the students winds down, I think of all the moments in which I’ve been moved by my experience here. One particular moment that struck me most powerfully was during our drive to Nyamata to visit the genocide memorial site. The students are all passionate about music and they spent much of the drive singing together–primarily Rwandan religious songs–harmonizing beautifully and just having so much fun. As their voices rose up in the car, I found myself with a huge smile on my face coupled with a painful lump in my throat. How strange and beautiful to be driving towards this reminder of Rwanda’s traumatic past with a new generation joyfully singing their hearts out.
This blog strives to be an interesting place of discovery–a place to share beautiful or disturbing photos, discover new places and people and lose oneself in this extraordinary medium. If you or someone you know would like to receive new blog posts directly through your email, please sign up directly on my blog site–Apertures and Anecdotes (in the right hand column)–or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
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Posted on March 10, 2014
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.
For more information about Through the Eyes of Hope, go to:
Through the Eyes of Hope Project
Here are a selection of images made by the students during the workshop: