recess radio program

Seeing Beyond Sight
    by John Cech

Since the early 1990s, there has been a growing interest -- indeed, something of a movement -- in teaching young people to use photography as an artistic means to express their unique perspectives, as well as to document their own lives and those of their families and their communities. One of these recent efforts is the organization of young photographers called Kids With Cameras that grew out of the Oscar-winning, 2004 film, Born Into Brothels, that looked at lives of a group of children growing up in the red light district of Calcutta. The children were provided with cameras by Zana Briski, one of the film makers, and they began to record their lives through the camera lens. The DVD of this powerful documentary is available, and online you can also see a gallery of pictures taken by the children in the film, as well as those of other young photographers from other parts of the world, for whom photography has become a central means of self-expression.

Years before Kids With Cameras clicked its first shutter, Nancy McGirr, a photo-journalist who was covering the armed conflicts in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s began to work with the children whom she met at the dump outside of Guatemala City. Many of these young people were, essentially, homeless, and they eked out their livings in the dump. McGirr taught them photography in the hope that this art form might offer them at least one empowering glimpse at a way to break out of the poverty to which they had been consigned. The group was originally called "Out of the Dump," and it's still at work in Guatemala and Hondorus under a different name, Fotokids, which you can also find on the internet.

Central to this movement is Wendy Ewald, who began bringing children and photography together in 1970, when she was working on an Indian reservation in Labrador and received a grant to put cameras in the hands of the young people she was meeting there. She has since gone on to work with groups of children around this country and the world. A collection of photos appears in Ewald's Secret Games, which accompanied an exhibition of the pictures of these young photographers.

If you're interested in starting a group of young photographers in your family, your classroom, or your community, you'll find an essential guide in Ewald's I Wanna Take Me a Picture. And don't miss Tony Deifell's remarkable book about teaching photography to blind teenagers. It's called Seeing Beyond Sight, and it asks us to reflect on what we really mean by . . . vision.


Copyright 2007 John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."