In November of 2005, three men from diverse nationalities arrived in Kampala, Uganda, to partner with ten Ugandan street children. Their goal was to pioneer a project intended to give marginalized children a means of creative self-expression.
Over two weeks, the three men, an alliance of English, Ugandan and American citizens, collaborated to provide rudimentary instruction to the five boy and five girl students, who ranged in age from 12-15 and were then residing in a temporary home in Kampala.
Working only with single point-and-shoot cameras and the minimal knowledge imparted in a mere six sessions of instruction, these students commandeered and redefined the expectations of the project.
Five boys and five girls, ages 9 through 15, were given a series of disposable cameras over several weeks and taught the basics of photography. In workshops organized at the Youth Corps homes, the children established ideas about what they wanted to document. Along the streets of Kampala, they then recreated pieces of their former and present lives. With raw honesty, the young photographers captured images that mixed universal themes of youth with lives of grave hardship. What came from this project exceeded all expectations.
In their pictures, we see Kampala only as its children could expose, as they are left to fight for themselves in a city ravaged by poverty. The destitution, the loss, the struggle with HIV and AIDS and the sense of alienation so frequently associated with Africa are stark. However, there is a greater depth to their stories – these students simultaneously expose the raw beauty of the abundant market, the poignancy of unsuspected friendships, and the recognition that the past and the future are wonderfully interrupted by the opportunities found in school, a home or a simple meal.
The potent interplay of the expected and the unexpected captured in a single frame by our students demands that we put aside our tendency to impose narratives, and instead listen closely to their pictures and stories of the lives they tell.
Today, Listen to my Pictures is an ongoing project based out of Connecticut in the United States. The initial pioneer program continues in Kampala. The exhibition generated from the original photos was debuted in Kampala in 2005 and toured throughout Uganda and the United States, including a show in New York in 2007.
Since then, Listen to My Pictures has expanded its operations to several other countries. A long-term project conducted in Gulu, Uganda portrayed the repercussions of a decade-long rebel activity include child abductions, forced child soldiering and colossal HIV/AIDS prevalence.
In 2008 and 2009, Listen to My Pictures work grew to include a project in Western Rwanda, the United States, and multiple projects in Mexico. Work in Mexico and Uganda are ongoing. In 2010, Listen to My Pictures hopes to launch a new project in Eastern Europe. Stay posted for updates!
We continue to seek out willing volunteers to lead new projects across the globe. If you are interested in leading a project or learning more, please contact us.