Throughout rural villages in Southwest Uganda, young children attending community schools have been telling their story using photography.
These young people, many of whom walk miles to school & come from poor village households have embraced the power of photography. For the first time they have held, learnt and been able to take photographs. Creating a wonderful narrative of their life, exhibiting their images and telling the story of what it is to be a child in rural Africa.
So the project begins – February 2015
Following a well-received exhibition from my Uganda trip in 2014, I was back at the school, bearing 25 film cameras, 50 rolls of film and a plan to give each child a camera and teach them photography.
The rudimentary brick building, which contained half a dozen benches and a scruffy blackboard, was my base for the next few weeks as I prepared to teach the basics of photography to 25 eager children.
This was the first time the children had ever touched a camera, let alone been able to understand how to use one.
Of course, mini disasters were never far away. A couple of camera backs sprung open with film falling across the dusty floor, batteries going missing and children holding the camera at arm’s length. This was all part of the learning process, and thankfully, on the whole the children picked up the basics very quickly, learning how to hold a camera, how to frame a picture and how to use the basic controls.
Over the course of the next week I arranged to walk the paths the children complete on a daily basis to get to school. Visiting each family in their home, walking miles upon miles, across valleys, up and down steep hillsides. The journey some of the children take on a regular basis was astonishing to me.
The opportunity for me as a documentary photographer to visit families and be allowed inside their homes was pretty inspiring. I felt privileged, often being the first westerner to step inside their homes and capture true rural Ugandan life.
Scenes unfolded in front of my eyes, a side of rural life that is often unseen. Living with a family gave me the access and freedom to shoot my images and form a strong bond throughout the rural community.
Photographing the emotions of everyday life was rather special, but the real joy came when each child came out to see me with their cameras, proudly holding them with such love. “I have 12 pictures, Mr Julian” would be the comments from the children, as time after time each camera was presented in wonderful condition.
Travelling to the nearest city I got all 25 films processed. As I stood in the small processing lab, I became rather nervous of what would become of my teaching. The first film arrived, and upon scanning the pictures I was thrilled to see a life of a Ugandan child unfolding in front of my eyes.
Each child had captured their life so uniquely. Family, friends, views from their house as well as their weekend activities. It was all beautifully presented in such emotive photographs.
Returning to the school, a small exhibition of images was held in the main classroom. Children stood mesmerised by the images. Shouts, laughter, pointing and fits of giggles filled the air, as for the first time these rural Ugandan children had their own pictures in print. A set of photographs to cherish and take home.
Selection of images from V1 of Give a Child a Camera, from the children at Eden School
Exhibition in the UK
Upon returning to the UK a successful exhibition which attracted hundreds of visitors was held at The Forum in Norwich, showcasing a range of work from the children accompanied by a selection of my own imagery.
V2 – 2016
Last year, having taught a group of 24 children photography I was quite simply blown away by the quality and original nature of their photography, it was amazing.
Returning this year, I taught a new group of children, along with many from last year and I’m pleased to say the results were incredible. I arrived to be greeted by children proudly pointing out all the parts of the camera, clearly the lesson plans I left last year had worked a treat!
The proudest moment was seeing the students from last year, turn up to my photography lesson, each of them with their cameras, in superb condition and so loved. I had a tear in my eye!
As well as teaching photography and letting the children photograph their life, I also continued teaching the teachers on the principles of photography, as well as sorting a photo room, a room for images to be shown and where all the cameras are stored in newly built locked cabinets.
After a week of teaching and running through the basic principles with new students, I then set about upping the quality of teaching to the students from last year.
A more comprehensive coverage of composition, apertures and shutter speeds was undertaken.
Move forward 10 days and the two groups were sent home with their cameras loaded with film, with the task of working to the brief. Take photographs which demonstrate your life, tell your story.
A week later and I was back at the processing lab in the city, being remembered from last year as “the crazy white man with lots of films”, I lived up to the statement as my moto taxi driver skidded to a halt, going over a small ramp, clipping a woman on bicycle and depositing me in the doorway of the lab. What an entrance.
I waited feeling as anxious as last year, as the first of the films came out of the lab. I felt the standard was as high as last year, but honestly I was blown away by the emotive images the children had captured.
This year, given we now had a superb photographic room it was decided an exhibition of all the images would be held, with invites going to all parents and guardians, who came out in force to enjoy an afternoon of tea, bread and stunning photography.
A selection of wonderful images from V2 of Give a Child a Camera
Back to the UK, I held two small exhibitions of the children’s work in Suffolk & Norfolk, at Sam’s Coffee House in Lowestoft and Open in Norwich.
V3 – 2017 Rwanda, Nyabihu school for the deaf
So… what next?
Well, returning across the border to Rwanda for my flight home (I always fly in via Kigali) I was invited to visit a small deaf school three hours from Kigali.
East Point Rotary in Suffolk have been supporting the school in the form of providing resources for someone to teach signing to the children, so it seemed appropriate to pay a visit.
The Director of the school is keen to bring my project into play, a move which I am really excited about. After all, these students will be visually stimulated and I’m excited to see what they will do and how they photograph their life.