There have been a lot of necessary technical lessons so far in the photography class, but my mission is to create photojournalists, storytellers, and artists. I have been looking forward to finally getting to the core of what we want to do with my students, and so I asked them to come up with a personal project, a story that they want to tell with their photographs. I had them think about it for a week or so while we wrapped up lighting and portraiture lessons, and many of them seemed to be unsure about what they would want to do .
Turns out I was wrong, and when it came time to share their ideas with the class, I was blown away by what many of the girls, including 14 year olds, were thinking about. The story ideas included prostitution, homeless girls in Kigali and if they could also be a Nyampinga (a successful girl who makes the right decisions), teenage pregnancy, how local women make a living doing crafts, the art of traditional dance in Rwanda and a story on girls fashion. Even those who started out a bit shy, clearly had things they were interested in and wanted to say about their culture and about challenges that girls face.
Now they are learning that sometimes a first idea doesn’t always come through or at least in our case, isn’t always doable for a 2-3 week project. Some of the stories, like one on drug-use we decided simply wasn’t safe for the 14 year-old student to do on her own. They are learning to research, find subjects, make appointments and plan shoots, and to be ready to go where the story is. One student found the subject of her story, a handicap woman who begs on the streets to support herself, on her way to look for people for the project she first had in mind.
We have had some fun, typical girl moments, where they giggled and blushed over how cute they thought the boys were in some of the photographs. I believe it was suggested that they would make good subjects to practice making portraits of. During our class on studio lighting they had a lot of fun “modeling” as they practiced taking pictures of each other and trying different lighting set ups.
There have also been some more intense moments as we have faced some of the realities that these girls, and everyone in Rwanda lives with. One in particular was when I showed them the amazing project of Jonathan Torgovnik, his portraits of women who were raped during the genocide, along with the children that were born from those attacks. They found it to be a very important project and said that those stories need to be told. I saw some very intense looks as they studied the images, a few girls put their heads in their hands, and because now I am so keenly aware that everyone here has a story in relation to the genocide, I could only imagine what each one of them was feeling or thinking. There are times that people offer you bits and pieces of their story, but otherwise you don’t really pry.
Mostly we have become a sisterhood of girls who are learning together, having a good time and sharing our desire to make powerful images that will help tell their stories of life in Rwanda. I look forward to sharing their images with all of you as their projects come together.