Haiti 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, and offering them a way to tell their own stories and express themselves. At the Workshops, we teach the importance, history, and uses of photography, technical information, instruction in the operation of a 35mm camera, and encourage visits from professional photographers.
Since 2007, we have gone south to Jacmel working with Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC), a nonprofit that now cares for almost 100 impoverished children daily providing art classes, meals, and financial support for school in a newly rented safe and secure house with enough room for a gallery. ACFFC also integrates the local artisans into their program as teachers and mentors, and the children have begun showing and selling their artwork.
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 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. Some of the children are still living in tent shelters today.
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.
We recently completed our first annual Jouk Li Jou Kan Foto – a summer photo camp for street children in July, 2011, in Jacmel. We were based at ACFFC where photojournalism students from our Cité Soleil class together with our Jacmel students and professional volunteers produced an incredible month long exhibit at FOSAJ, a community gallery located in the historical neighborhood devastated by the 2010 earthquake.
We had 43 students, ages 11-23, that shot over 12,100 digital images in three days of assignments. Local and international organizations, farmers, artists, townsfolk, butchers, market women, and fishermen were just some of their subjects. Each student collected caption information, shot multiple assignments, and had one on one editing sessions with a professional photographer. After all of the editing we made 70 large prints, every student had at least one, for the final exhibition at the gallery. An additional 216 images were chosen from extra daily assignments to create four large collages, we also put together a slideshow that continuously ran during the reception. The capacity crowd at our Exhibition Reception on July 29, 2011, truly represented the Jacmel community. There were the student photojournalists, their photo subjects, family and friends, our team, local artisans, drummers, dancers, Kanaval devils, and others that came to celebrate something beautiful. The best part was witnessing the pride of the young photographers as their peers and community viewed their work with such appreciation and respect.
In the early days, 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.
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.
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