Thursday, October 05, 2006

OJOS nuevos: clase número uno

Last night at San Francisco de Regis home for girls in Santiago, Chile, Voluntarios de la Esperanza held our first class of the digital photography program "OJOS nuevos." Because we have six cameras for the 25 girls who live here, the director of the institution and I decided to choose six girls for the first pilot class. The girls range from ages 12 - 15, and each one is very excited to be participating in OJOS nuevos. This class will meet every Wednesday for 8 weeks and will include discussions about photography throughout history and in current times, creative thinking exercises, and reviews of their work. In addition, the director has approved excursions for the girls so that we may take the cameras outside of the hogar's walls and explore the city. While VE's funds are shared among all of the projects we run, I hope that we may even be able to sponsor a trip to another city.

I opened the class with a short movie I created showing a wide range of photographs from around the world. We sat in the near darkness around the computer, the images and the haunting melodies of Ayub Ogaba calming the room and helping us gain focus. I plan on starting every class in a similar manner, as the subdued format immediately draws the girls in and simultaneously exposes them to many kinds of photography. Next we did an activity to help explain that the class would be more discussion based, that frequently there is not one answer to questions raised by a piece of art. I had chosen six images, passed out a piece of paper to each girl, and had her number the paper 1-6-- without putting her name on it. For each photo, we wrote how the image made us feel, what the image seemed to be communicating, and what we thought was happening in photograph. I'd like to include this acitivity in a future class, as we practice taking more time to respond and allowing ourselves more time to think. The girls, at first, created a race out of completing each task; I think this will be a good lesson for them. After passing them in, mixing them up, and redistributing the papers, we took turns reading out loud the opinions on each sheet. Some of the girls took this activity more seriously from the beginning, and I'm hoping that they will become positive leaders for the class.

Because the goal of this photography program is to encourage the girls to have the time and to learn to think more creatively, I have included journals as part of the project. We gave each girl her own notebook with the name of the class as well as her name written on the inside cover. I took a portrait of each girl by herself, and these will be affixed to the first page. We spent some time decorating the journals to make them more personal, and I made it clear to them that I would not be reading these journals, nor anybody else. They are for writing, glueing photos that they find and like, sketching ideas and making mind maps. I gave them an idea for their first entry: If you had a magic wand, and could be or do anything you wanted, what would you choose?

Finally came the time for cameras. Each girl has been assigned a number which corresponds to a camera. Any time the girls have finished their homework and chores, they can find me and ask to check out their camera. They can use it in the hogar however they like, and each week they will have an assignment on which to work. I would prefer to leave the hogar once a week with the girls, but due to funding we will have to see what happens. I made it clear that once the girls have signed their name on the sign-out sheet, they are completely responsible for the camera until they bring it back to me. I think this is another important aspect of the class, as the girls are being trusted with a piece of equipment they know is incredibly valuable. By showing that we have confidence in them, perhaps they will feel more confident themselves. Hopefully we can get a back-up camera in case there is an accident!

I would like to extend a gigantic thank you to everyone who contributed to this photography program thus far, and I hope that we can continue to build a network of support to keep the program running and to enable us to make it grow. VE serves over 1000 children throughout Santiago, and we are making great strides as an organization. If you are interested in supporting this project, please visit this website. Thank you for your help, and please check back for weekly updates!

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