ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

What Resulted When a Photographer Gave Rural Children Cameras

By June 12, 2018Strictly Business Blog
Photo by Franklin Monnakqtla, South Africa, 1992.

“A Dream of Shata and the doll,” Franklin Monnakqtla, South Africa, 1992.

Cross-posted from The New Yorker
[by Andrea K. Scott]

Every photographer has a give-and-take relationship with her subjects. Wendy Ewald has more give than most. Since 1975, the American artist has been entwining photography, activism, and education in a series of collaborations that upend our prevailing ideas of authorship and authority. For months, even years, at a time, she has moved into rural communities around the world—from Mexico and Morocco to India and the Netherlands—to teach local children how to use cameras. The resulting black-and-white photographs are credited to both Ewald and her students, who are quoted and named in the titles. (This started twenty years before the term “socially engaged art” entered the lexicon.)

The pictures can be funny but they are also frank. What they are not is sentimental. Encouraged by Ewald to delve into their dreams, the children return from sleep with visions as dark as as a Grimms’ fairy tale: of killing a best friend, or of a brother buried under a woodpile. But it’s the revelations of waking thoughts that truly disturb. A white girl in South Africa describes her photograph of a black man on the sidewalk, from 1992, with the words “What I Don’t Like About Where I Live.” In its exposure of casual racism, among other harsh realities, Ewald’s project sidesteps what Teju Cole has described as “the white-savior industrial complex” that plagues, for example, the feel-good documentary “Born Into Brothels.”

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