Language of Art
Kids with Cameras
Two of the photographs
taken by the children
'Bucket': taken by Avijit aged 11
Avijit is an innately talented artist and has won many competitions for his paintings. Charistmatic and restlessly creative, his photographic images were among the most compelling of the workshop. Avijit was invited by the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam to be part of their Children's Jury in 2002. In 2005 Avijit received a four year high school scholarship to attend an incredible school in America. Avijit now 20 is studying film At New York University. He is thriving in the programme and loving New York City.
'On the rooftop (My Sister's Friend)':
taken by Suchitra aged 13
Suchitra is a gifted photographer, taking photographs of daily life on her rooftop. Suchitra's photo of her sister's friend was chosen as the cover of the Amnesty International 2003 calendar.
Suchitra, now 21 has married and moved out of Calcutta
It is an astonishing statistic that over 10,000 women and girls live and work as prostitutes in Calcutta, India. In 1997 Zana Briski, a New York-based photographer, penetrated through a tangled web of brothel owners, pimps, police, local politicians and organised crime syndicates to gain access to some of these women working in the red-light district of the city. She hoped to gain an insight into their daily lives, and so perhaps gain an understanding as to why they had chosen such a way of life. She lived with the women, photographing and documenting their lives. Over a period of time Zana got close to the women and to their young and vulnerable children who, she was shocked to discover, were the most stigmatised people in the red-light district. She realised that in the face of abject poverty, abuse and despair these children had little possibility of escaping their mother's fate, or for creating another type of life for themselves.
Participants in the Kids With Cameras project
Left to right: Puja, Suchitra, Kochi,Avijit,Tapasi, Gour, Manik, Shanti
Whilst photographing the women, she found that the children were becoming increasingly fascinated by her camera, and the whole notion of photography seemed to intrigue them. She began to give them lessons - finally ordering cameras for each of the children and running weekly workshops, not only on the basics of camera mechanics but also photographic techniques such as lighting, composition, the development of perspective, editing and sequencing for narrative. She taught them to look at the world with new eyes; and in return she learned to perceive the world through theirs.
This exciting, and totally unexpected, development of her visit to Calcutta became a project in its own right - titled: Kids with Cameras (founded in 2002) - and the aim was to provide a safe place for the children to be themselves, learn, have fun, and in the process discover a way in which to articulate their own thoughts and feelings, and come to believe in their own self-worth. Zana watched in wonder as the children came back to her with vibrant self-portraits, family pictures, and street scenes that offered a stunning tableaux of, and an insight into, Bengali life. At the completion of the project an exhibition of the children•s work was held in NewYork and all monies raised then and since from the sale of their photographs etc. is channelled back into helping support the children, improve their educational opportunities and general wellbeing.
Zana and filmmaker Ross Kauffman documented the children of Calcutta and their stories in the film 'Born into Brothels', which went on to win over 30 major awards, including the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Through the film, audiences all over the world learned of, and became entranced with, the spirited and resilient young photographers. They witnessed how children, growing up in difficult circumstances, can be empowered to transform their lives through art and education.
It is a wonderful story and the photographs taken by the children can be seen - and purchased - at www.kids-withcameras.org The DVD 'Born into Brothels' can also be purchased though it is coded for Region 1 (USA and Canada) only and requires an all-region player or a computer.A beautiful 224 page book of the children's photographs is also available.
Whilst the workshops began in Calcutta the 'Kids With Cameras' project has expanded and in 2004 Israeli and Palestinian children used photography to better understand each other's lives in Jerusalem's Old City. Haitian child domestic servants learned to make visible their unique struggles and perspectives in 2005. And 2006 saw the launch of the Cairo project, which allowed children living and working in the garbage collecting community the chance to find the beauty in their lives and in themselves. See www.kids-with-cameras.org for more details.
The long-term legacy of this project will be Asha Niwas (Hope House), a large and comfortable home where up to 150 children from Calcutta•s red light district will live, learn and grow. There will be free education, through high school, courtesy of the Buntain Foundation which owns and operates 80 schools in India. The Buntain Foundation will also staff and manage the home.