jimmy-with-cameraHaiti Street Children’s Photography Workshops: How they started…

The people, culture, poverty, and violence of Haiti are all attractive to photographers. Countless international photojournalists go to Haiti, mostly during times of political upheaval, and through them the media show the world a limited view of Haiti. Most of the images we see from Haiti are violent, but there is also happiness, beauty and especially pride. I wanted to create an outlet for young Haitians to develop skills to document their country’s continuing history and its daily life from their own perspectives.

During my first trip to Haiti in January 1997, while documenting a home for street youth, I began the Photography Workshops. My love of photography was what I had to give the children. Hundreds of them were living at Lafanmi Selavi, a home created in 1986 by Jean-Bertrand Aristide when he was still a parish priest. Some children had never had their picture taken before, most had never seen a photo of themselves, and none of them had every used a camera.

An opportunity was created for kids with no resources to do something completely new, nurturing hidden talents, adding skills, discovering new worlds, and offering them a way to tell their own stories and express themselves. At the Workshops we teach in a photojournalism style concentrating on the importance, history, and uses of photography, technical information, and encourage visits from professional photographers.

In the early days, it was all film and manual cameras. We had an amazing pinhole camera workshop put together by visiting San Francisco photographer Matthew Millman, outdoor slideshows, a permanent exhibit in Port-au-Prince, and students receive income from sales of their prints and postcards. Just to hold a camera is an exciting experience. The kids have worked individually and in groups using photography to interact with their community from a different perspective. In 2004 and 2005, our Photography Workshops thrived at Caritas St. Antoine, a small home for street children in Port-au-Prince. Twenty students went on field trips, photograms were created in a makeshift darkroom, Haitian photojournalist Evens Sanon presented his story of becoming a professional, and two U.S. photojournalists visited the class with their digital cameras.

Since 2007, we have gone south to Jacmel working with Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC), a nonprofit that supports 100 impoverished children providing art classes, daily meals, and financial support for school. ACFFC also integrates the local artisans into their program as teachers and mentors, and the children have been creating, showing, and selling their artwork including painting, paper mache, and incredible mosaic murals and items.

The photographs produced after the earthquake were taken with point and shoot digital cameras. It was the second Workshop for the kids with Kolézépol from Cite Soleil, and the fifth with ACFFC. The students challenged themselves to reflect on their lives by taking better photographs than the foreign journalists that came into Haiti, and we gave them specific daily assignments to cover. The classes helped children cope with their trauma and the devastating environment reaching out with community while schools were closed and their world was changing.

In February, 2010, our students’ work was published on the New York Times Lens Blog, Canada’s Globe and Mail hired eight of them after the earthquake as stringers to help document the rebuilding of Jacmel, and they were invited by galleries to have exhibitions in four cities throughout the Unites States.

Since 2011 – our annual youth Photo Camp

For the past five years, our annual Jouk Li Jou Kan Foto – a summer youth photo camp – was based at ACFFC in Jacmel. We brought our photojournalism students from Cité Soleil to work together with our Jacmel students and a team of volunteer professionals for two weeks of intense Photography Workshops shooting assignments including photo stories and studio portraits, editing with volunteer photographers, learning computer skills and producing multi-media presentations, and attending small business classes. We also offer private counseling, go on field trips, and produce exhibitions and street parties to celebrate the students’ work with their community. Classes range from 35-50 students ages 12-22.

Earning potential impact – For the last two years two of our advanced students have been getting paid photo gigs, a student Postcard Committee is earning funds by selling their own postcards, print sale proceeds are paid to photographers, five have worked for us taking portraits of our School Sponsorship students, and two students have started their own businesses.

All of the cameras and computers used in our Photography Workshops were generously donated. If you have a working camera or computer you aren’t using, we will put it to good use.

Our heartfelt thanks to the wonderful volunteers, sponsors, and donors who support our Photography Programs!

The Haiti Street Children’s Photography Workshop Gallery

Fostering children’s photographic talents not only boosts self-esteem and teaches practical technical skills for the future, it also inspires change. Given a chance, empowering children enables them to improve their quality of life.

The Lafanmi Selavi Photography Workshop

This gallery includes work from six Workshops (2-4 weeks long) and many tutoring sessions during a three-year period. There were 17 boys and girls, and many took multiple classes. The primary focus was black and white film photography, and the treat was a special pinhole camera workshop.

Individual Mentoring

After Lafanmi Selavi closed, there was no place to conduct the Photo Workshops so we worked with boys living on the streets. The one that took the most initiative was Jimmy (street name). Jimmy lived at Lafanmi Selavi when he was a boy, and lived out on the streets after it closed. Although he was never in a formal Photo Workshop, he received one on one lessons and shot a lot of black and white film. He loved making pictures and had a natural eye with a strong will to learn. I worked with Jimmy for two years, and then in 2003 the Haitian National Police took him away and he was never seen again. He was 19 years old.

The Caritas St. Antoine Photography Workshops

In 2004 and 2005, Photography Workshops were held in three-week sessions. All 20 residents were students and each shot multiple rolls of color film. On a field trip to the country, their quest was the perfect postcard shot. Students made personal photograms in our temporary darkroom, questioned a Haitian photojournalist, and checked out digital cameras for the first time

The ACFFC Photography Workshops

During Kanaval seasons in 2007 and 2008, 24 students from ACFFC’s program in Jacmel shot a total of 33 rolls of color film with disposable cameras. The children integrated some of the seasonal celebration into their photographs, as well as shooting rarely seen family and home life.

The Legacy of Lafanmi Selavi

The Documentary Project

Daily life of street children living at the group home and out on the streets
Photographs by Jennifer Cheek Pantaléon 1997-2008