If a picture is worth a thousand words, the photo book by North Balga Primary School students Ben and Simon equates to a hefty tome.
Camera Story Local co-founder Jacqueline Warrick says the boys constantly fought and never saw eye-to-eye at the start of the project. Not anymore.
“When they first came in they were just sitting there with their arms folded, sizing each other up,” she recounts. “So we got them working together, sharing a camera. Over the weeks, it was really beautiful to see them start talking to each other and creating ideas. Even their behaviour out of the Camera Story workshops improved.”
The project – created in 2013 by Jacqueline and fellow photographer Sarah Landro, in collaboration with the charity 12 Buckets – sees professional photographers mentoring underprivileged children in under-resourced schools across Perth.
“Camera Story Local is currently working in Balga and North Balga primary schools,” Jacqueline says. “Sarah and I have written a six-week photography workshop program that has been developed through working overseas and in Australia as photographers.”
The program is based on the school syllabus, and teaches groups of up to 12 primary school students, who are recommended by their teachers, on the manual operation of a DSLR camera.
The Camera Story team of four works with the children in groups of one, two, or four, teaching them how to ‘read’ an image, how to photograph and communicate a meaningful story, and, most importantly, how to connect with a subject and with each other.
“The camera can be used as a tool to get children working together and collaborating on a shared vision or project,” Jacqueline says. “If children have behavioural problems that stop them from learning with one another, it’s actually a really good method to get them to collaborate and produce something they value.”
Ben and Simon created a photo story called Cooking on a Bicycle during their time
with Camera Story, photographing a series of images that show the boys cooking Honey Joys while riding bikes – Ben loves cooking, and Simon BMX.
Other students have snapped each other’s portraits or elements of the natural world, producing some compelling perspectives.
“They have this eye for detail that (others) completely miss,” Jacqueline says. “They’re the most amazing photographs. There’s a lot of close-ups of things, so I suppose it shows a fascination with the natural world and with the small things.”
Jacqueline says she’s seen the confidence of her students grow, with the classes really helping them to open up.
“The camera is accessible and easy to use, allowing children freedom to communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings without feeling under pressure or overwhelmed,” she says.
“This develops other skills such as vocabulary, planning and presentation, and encourages the use of digital technologies.”
Rick, from Balga Primary School, is a case in point.
“When we first met Rick he was just so closed over and you couldn’t even speak to him, but he was so gentle and beautiful at the same time, you just wanted to pry him out,” Jacqueline says. “His parents have gone through this really terrible divorce, to the point where he doesn’t see his father anymore.”
Jacqueline and some camera-loving children in India (photography Gluzar Hussain).
Jacqueline says his mother came in to speak to Joe, who is part of the Camera Story team and Rick’s mentor during the workshops, and what she had to say was heart-warming.
“She said Rick never had a real masculine role model before, and just in the last six months working with Joe, he’d started talking so much more and he’d really opened up,” Jacqueline says. “She was in tears when she was telling this story, and we just thought, that’s amazing.”
It’s clear the project has made a difference to the lives of the children involved, and it’s not without the hard work and dedication of its founders: the photographers fund the project by running after-school, weekend and holiday photography workshops for children, adults and seniors.
Camera Story International is the next project on the agenda, with plans to introduce workshops in March 2015 to children in the slums of Jaflong in Bangladesh, and to the nomadic children from the Changthang region of Ladakh in North India.
Through government funding and crowd-funders Kickstarter, Jacqueline and Sarah will work with educators and community leaders from these regions to promote the philosophy that photography changes worlds and lives.
“Our passion – people, culture, food, faith and photography – lies in South Asia,” Jacqueline says. “The seed for Camera Story was germinated by our travels and interaction with communities here; and therefore it has always been our dream to bring our fully realised Camera Story workshops to classrooms of children in India and Bangladesh.”