Saturday, February 11, 2006

Photo Finish

A decade and a half ago, a Reuters photographer started a program to give garbage dump kids their own cameras. "I figured out that you can do things rather than just observe them and that you don't have to know all the answers," she says. Reuters reports on her program, Fotokids, which now is working with 85 children in four cities in Guatemala and Honduras.

Cameras for the poor: I know of a number of programs like this--and they all seem to be doing good things. Still, I keep wishing that, beyond the artistic vision, there was an organizing component in them. It's one thing to give a kid a camera and a taste of the outside world. It's another to give that same kid additional tools that broaden the horizon for structural change.


e-tat said...

Fair enough. Are there any instances of such? Any particulars that strike you as superlative or, conversely, particulars that are missing from the effort?

Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

There's the 'Crew at 22", an inner city Junior High School #22 in New York
[Lower East Side, I believe] where a NY ham radio operator has maintained an operating radio station for the kids at the school for at least the last 10 years.


rn said...

1. You're asking a tough question, e-tat, forcing me to put aside criticism and start being constructive.

To be frank, I don't know any arts programs that have built-in a organizing or activist platform. The best I can point to is the Binti Pamoja Center in Nairobi, organized through Carolina for Kibera, which gives girls cameras to record the community. But the aim of the group is empowerment and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases. But the photos, some of which are startlingly good, are most often used for fundraisers in the U.S.

I thought of trying to organize a squatter news service in all of the countries I visited, but then I had to face the question of who the audience would be and whether the news would all be in English. Simply writing occasional postcards from the shantytown to the wealthy world didn't strike me or my squatter friends as a particularly worthy goal.

My initial idea for this blog was to put friends in each squatter community in charge. But the digital divide and language barriers made that difficult.

These are not easy issues. Empowerment is scary, tough, and long-term. I'll think more about this and post more in coming days.

2. Leighm dot: I wish there were more community-oriented media projects in the favelas and shantytowns of the world. There were a few local radio stations in Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro, but most of them wound up converting to Christian format. Community newspapers come and go, and the big issue is whether they can make money. Doing something through a school is a great idea, as it doesn't have to turn a profit and can be extremely educational.

By the way, the 'crew at 22' seems to have a web site, though the info there is not very complete. You can visit it at: