Tuesday, August 28, 2007

OJOS nuevos: exhibition at ARCOS

Technically, 10 young women and girls had participated in the second session of OJOS nuevos. But if you stood in the crowd at Instituto ARCOS, watching groups of girls run around from panel to panel of their friend's photos, shoving mini-empanadas into napkins and sloshing Fanta into little plastic cups, if you saw the caravans of cars and a bus that had made the trek into the city center from the south side of Santiago, if you saw the proud care-givers and volunteers sharing conversations and snapping photos of the festivities, you would see that the photo program included many more people than 10.

I had brought OJOS nuevos to an hogar in Santiago's Puente Alto neighborhood: Aldea María Reina. I included four young women, ages 13-17, in a 4 month long workshop. Lindy Drew, a very close personal friend and photographer also working with VE, opened another branch of the program at a second hogar in the same southside neighborhood, where six girls participated; their ages ranged from 9-12. While we ran slightly different curriculums in our workshops, the general idea was always the same: not only to enable the participants to learn about photography and take pictures, but to explore their city and look at their world with a new perspective. This is the reason why the program is calledOJOS nuevos: it means "new eyes."

The exhibition at ARCOS displayed the work by all 10 young women. I had met with Hector Lopez, director of the photography program at ARCOS, several times, and we had discussed the idea of blending the photos into one show and placing them in a larger context that would pull them together instead of hanging photos one by one or dividing them by photographer.After weeks of going through all of the participant's photos, Lindy and I created large collages based on theme. We looked for common visual elements as well as more subtle implications of the images that we could use as a thread to weave the photos into a more cohesive group. The titles we decided on included: Calle/Street, Manos/Hands, Graffiti/Graffiti, La Vida del Hogar/Hogar Life, Soy Yo/It's Me, Retratos/Portraits, Místico/Mystical, El Taller/The Workshop, Repetición/Repetition. In addition to the collages of photos, Lindy and I posted large bilingual explanations of the taller, the hogar, the organization, and our biographies. We hold the hope that one day this photography show will be able to travel outside of Santiago's limits and OJOS nuevos will find more stability as a social project.

I knew that I had learned a lot by running the workshop, but I used to wonder if the girls had learned what I had hoped they would. I remember at the end of my time at the hogar in July, C.M. stood up at the end of the table and overtook her shyness
with a bold, beautiful smile. She began a slow, serious farewell speech for me, at the head of a long table in the administration building of the hogar. Her long black hair, a creative mess of tiny braids and loopy waves, was tied up in knots with clips and rubberbands asymmetrically. Clearing her throat, she addressed the small group that had gathered for my goodbye party. She began: Sometimes we come without motivation, we come with pain and sadness. But even though it may be difficult, we can get past it... In the photography classes I learned that you have to be creative. There are small details that you normally wouldn't see, that you would ignore. But sometimes these things can be so important. I looked down at my orange drink and manjar cake and burned the memory into my brain, knowing that at that moment there was nowhere else I would have rather been.

Someone asked me recently, if I were given all the money I needed to live, what would I do? Without hesitation, I responded: Go back to South America, travel and learn about the cultures there, and continue the photography project OJOS nuevos. Given that money is not often "given" out in lifetime increments, this is much easier said than done. The means are not present to justify this end. One year away seems ok for one year, but beyond that, for me, visits home are crucial. Maybe it was during my workshops or maybe on the long busrides traveling but I realized that I am not as solitary as I once believed, and I thrive on relationships. The desire for new ones has driven me far from home, and the value of old ones has brought me back. Hopefully, OJOS nuevos will continue in the hogares in which we implemented the program. I know even though I will be living in the States, there is no reason it cannot proceed. I am certain I will continue to be a part of OJOS nuevos.

While the cameras and memory cards I used for my workshops were supplied by generous donations from Chicagoans, Lindy Drew used cameras lent by Pentax through TakeGreatPictures. Please visit the website to read articles about the OJOS nuevos program, and see more photos from the exhibition. Go to this page, then just scroll down until you the blurb about us.

You can also visit FLICKR to see photos from OJOS nuevos.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

santiago to chicago

Back where the toilets flush clockwise, where August means sitting on the stoop in the summer heat, and where the colors in the sky at sunset call all of your attention due to lack of mountains or really any topographical variation, I have returned to my home town. Traditionally, I suppose it is my home town, the greater Chicagoland area, although my idea of "home" shifts and changes sometimes. Home could be the feeling of having dinner around a full table of friendly faces, home could be the sensation of a hug from someone you haven't seen in a long time. Home could be a place where you are living and experiencing your daily reality, or home could be of historic importance, where your memories live.

The last couple of months in Chile made it even more clear to me that they will not be my last at all. Chile, South America, are still just developing their roles in my life. With a rush of activities and events at the end of May, including the OJOS nuevos exhibition at ARCOS, I left Santiago in a blur, running to the bus terminal and arriving just in time with a good friend of mine to begin our trip up north, through Bolivia and to Peru. Spanning the month of June, this journey has been extensively documented and will unfold here in a series of essays referencing the notes I scribbled along the way, electricity permitting, and countless photographs. But in regards to my time in Santiago, most importantly, my connection with the foundations and people with whom I worked are still intact, and I look forward to continuing these relationships. I won't always know exactly how much I meant to the people I met, the girls, my friends; I know that with some, we shared a mutual understanding about the power of our friendship. Without a doubt, my year in Chile will not be forgotten, nor will it remain untouched, tucked in a frame on the wall in some obscure, private room. In the most humble sense, I have been changed, and it was change that I was seeking. Hopefully this change has gone beyond me. Without a doubt, my attitude and perspective has shifted. The force of my experiences has picked me up out of the rut in which I found myself one year ago, and I feel that I have embarked on a different, much more satisfying-- albeit challenging-- path: I am so glad that I went.