Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary
This is the second week of workshops. We started the session by reviewing the images the participants had taken the week before both in the workshop, and in their spare time through their assignment.
The classes have grown. Today I had over 15 students. A few participants from the first week did not return as they had found jobs or gone back to school, but more had heard about the workshops through word of mouth, and came in their place. It was a little distracting for the girls who were there the first week to wait as I repeated the lessons of the first session to the newcomers, but they waited patiently.
Most of them became reserved and were reluctant to share their experiences. I tried my best to help them feel comfortable but in some instances it became clear that they were not ready to speak up. A factor that contributes to this, is the language barrier. As much as they understand me, they find it difficult and uncomfortable to communicate themselves to me in English. I do however have one girl who I have called Madam Speaker who helps with translation.
I asked them how they felt about taking pictures with the disposable cameras and how they approached identifying their subject matter. Some had stronger responses than others which is of course, is all part of the learning process. Some girls completely ignored the brief and finished all the camera exposures in one go despite being instructed to take just one photograph a day. This was expected because I knew they would get over excited. Some couldn’t complete the brief because they were too shy to approach people and request permission to photograph them. Some said they were not able to complete the assignment as people had said no to them when t hey asked to take photographs. I used this as a life example highlighting that sometimes we will all get “No’s” in life. This doesn’t mean we should give up and stop trying. Life will always deliver a few “no’s”, but does this mean that we need to stop living? No!
After the feedback session, we took a walk through the slums to learn about environmental shots. The purpose of the walk was for them to understand that there is beauty in every surrounding, even if we don’t see it ourselves because we live somewhere and see the same thing everyday.
While we walked around i showed them things that i thought would help them to realize just how to look for beauty in their own “backyards”. It’s easy for me to walk around a place I don’t know and see things as beautiful because i have an eye trained to finding beauty in the ordinary as well as in the extraordinary.
Communicating this with them was a bit of a challenge. I decided to show them what I see and let them photograph that. As the walk continued, they began to grasp the idea of seeing beyond what is directly in front of you. Soon they were able to continue the walk without my assistance.
Things were a little bit different for the second group of young woman the following day. We started off with just 3 girls initially, but eventually more joined. One of them could not participate with us on the walk because she has a baby who is just one month old. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do to get her to join our walkabout. So, with just two girls, we set out into the community.
It was logistically easier because the girls were able to have personal access to digital cameras rather than needing to share. The walk started out perfectly as i showed them how to find backgrounds that could enhance their images.
We walked for about 1km when a shop owner became irrate thinking that the girls had photographed his shop. In reality, we were not even facing his shop, but created a public spectacle before swiping the cameras and locking himself in the shop with them.
Having experienced similar situations before, I remained calm and let the girls speak in the knowledge that my inability to speak Swahili would be a problem. The shop owner was shouting, making threats and insisting we call the police, after he had himself deleted the images, none of which featured his shop.
I encouraged him to call the police, explaining that he would be arrested for theft as he was withholding our cameras and had no proof that we photographed his shop.
When this dawned on him, he eventually returned our cameras but by them the whole neighbourhood had congregated around us and began demanding that we delete all the already deleted photos taken on our walk.
With all that drama we decided it would be safer if we went to another part of the neighbourhood. By this time our group had grown to about 8 girls. We went back to the clinic and discussed what had happened and how to deal with such situations.
The episode had taught the girls that remaining calm always helps when dealing with irate people. When you respond with violence the consequences and outcome are negative. Anything could have happened in that moment, but because we humbled ourselves we soon got our way.
As much as photography is a technical skill it gives one a lot of opportunities to view life and its challenges through a lense. Everything becomes a lesson. Every lesson becomes another challenge completed. As difficult as the situation was, there was a lesson to be learnt for all of us. Including myself. Next week we get to view the first printed images from the disposable cameras. I’m so excited :)