Elpida’s first photography exhibition

30. October, 2016
By Eli

The idea came from the kids.

Many of us volunteers lug our cameras all over camp, ecstatic to document everything – residents, volunteers, activities, stray cats and sunsets. And it’s not uncommon to be rushing down the stairs and feel a tug at your shoulder strap, or to be distributing water and have to stop to tell three or four little kids that no, they can’t take a picture right now. It’s nothing unusual for teenagers and young adults to pull out their cell phones and make you sit through a 20-minute Facebook slideshow, trying to explain what they like about the light, angle or filter they used.

An interest in photography was there before any of us thought about doing a photography workshop.

Picture of a volunteer from the photography workshop

We’ve really been looking for ways to the engage ‘older youngsters’ – the 18-24 demographic. There aren’t an awful lot of them, and they don’t have much to do all day. They’re too old to go to school, and don’t blend in with the older men. When the idea was proposed, they didn’t need much convincing.

The class started with the basics. “This is a camera.” They rolled their eyes. “This is the lens.” They began to get bored. But once we started into the visible effects of aperture, shutter speed, zoom, and ISO, they latched right on.

The first day’s assignment was object photography. It was an easy way to let the students test the incoming knowledge, and they go the hang of it quickly. After the lecture, we sent them back to their rooms to grab one object that mattered to them – that was important in some way. Hussein grabbed his pen and notebook, and opened it to his homework from English class. Mohammed grabbed a well-used knit cap. We taped up a big piece of easel paper to the wall as a backdrop, and they played with the natural light.

Picture from the photography workshop

Class two was portraiture. Through a slideshow presentation they were exposed to portraits – both typical and unorthodox. Einstein sticking out his tongue, Dali looking mysterious with that iconic moustache. We showed portraits of world leaders by master photographer Platon – almost all of whom they identified instantly. Then they got to work trying to capture their friends’ personalities on film. Again they used natural light, but this time they added the flashlights from their cell phones for dramatic effect.

The third class was a field trip to a local park, where they could experiment with nature photography. Good luck placed a lone, friendly dog in the park that day, which they all got to photograph in the golden, near-sunset light. They roamed around and photographed the cracks and textures of tree bark, delicate spider webs, and a sprawling valley view. And when it started to get too dark for pictures, it was a tough time getting anyone to leave – students or teachers.

The final class was an introduction to Adobe Lightroom, a powerful editing tool. The goal of this lesson (and the whole course, really) wasn’t to make them professionals by the end of the class, but for them know what was out there – let them know about contrast, clarity, noise reduction, lens distortion correction and color adjustment. And hopefully, when they finally get wherever they’re going, they’ll think of the class and seek out the world of photography.

On the next day, a Saturday, we had an exhibition. Portraits of each photographer hung next to 10 selected images. For hours after the photographs were hung, residents thronged to the once-barren wall to point out their favorites. Another crop of potential students begged us to do another workshop the following week.

And that’s a real possibility, but we’re running into issues. The biggest one is funding. We did this workshop using volunteers’ personal cameras, which we lent out to residents. We had a very limited amount of cameras, and therefore could have a very limited amount of students. Now that one of the volunteers who lent a camera is gone and another is leaving soon, we just don’t have the resources to do it yet. We’re looking into starting a 6-week program, but we’re going to need to buy secondhand cameras for the students to use.

Picture of a sign from the photography workshop

There are many photographers out there taking pictures of refugees. It’s good that this crisis is getting attention, but just imagine how much more informed, affected, interested and possibly involved people would be if the reporting got closer than any outside journalist could – if refugees documented themselves.

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