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Photo Diaries

After 3 years of procrastinating I finally went to the homeless shelter in our neighborhood and proposed a documentary video class I've always wanted to do. Met with amazing enthusiasm, the director said they could afford a photography class and so my 'Telling Stories with Pictures" class was born. The long-time photographer who have volunteered at the shelter had said he would help out with processing images and such. Once the class was designed and laid out, he jumped on board as half of the teaching team. I was flattered and annoyed.
We met our group of 4 on a sunny Thursday. I was nervous. I haven't taught a class since 1988. It was great to have a teaching partner - so flattery and annoyance gave way to contentment. The social worker who came with the participants disappeared soon after the class started. I started with talking about my background and my love of imagery. My teaching partner did the same. And then we asked them to introduce themselves. We were warned that they might be reticent and distrustful. 30 minutes later I had to wrap it up or we would have never made it to the actual class part.

I had compiled a selection of photos: black and white/color, close-up/wide-shot, different angles of the same subject, individuals/groups/pairs, professional/amateur and more. These served as a platform to discuss shape, light, perspective, focus, emotion, stories. I showed the images and they talked about what feeling they got from each. With a little guidance, they began to notice the light, framing and point of view. I spoke very little, their observations captured so much more than I could say.  We ran 30 minutes over our first class.

Everyone in the class at one time or another took some kind of photography or video class. Two of the folks were considered 'non-functional' at the shelter yet their excitement about being part of the class was palpable and they participated fully in all the discussions. Another guy used to work in the fashion industry. And another was quiet during most of the discussion, checking his cell phone, staring out the window. But when he made a comment, it was worth listening to.
We wrapped the class up with a question - what do you want to take pictures of, what story do you want to tell?

The next week we only had 3. The quiet guy didn't show. I was sad about that and asked if we could find out what happened. Immediately the group jumped into the discussion of how they were seeing things they wanted to photograph and referenced the photos they had seen in the previous class. Talk about feeling good - I was so high.  We discussed the themes for their photo essays based on the question we ended the last class with. From everything they discussed, and they had given it a lot of thought, transformation emerged as the common through line, transforming their lives. Then we reviewed the cameras - simple disposable point and shoots. I talked a bit about the simplicity of the cameras allowed them to focus on the subject and not get caught up in the technical stuff, which I really believe. (Though I did leave out that it was all we could afford until we got funded).  My co-teacher showed some of his documentary work and discussed the choices he made. Some of his pictures were very candid shots from the soup kitchen. These resonated, not only because it was a familiar place, but they were off-the-cuff, out of focus where there was movement; good examples of how candid shots work as well as planned-out ones.

We wrapped on time - though they were ready to keep on talking. They left with their cameras and I'm hoping turning them in today so we can have their work to look at next week. This class is a sacred time for me - there is very little that I would let interfere with being there. I believe I will take maybe more away from the experience than the participants.
Our end goal is to have an art opening - fund raiser for the shelter. I'll also produce a video on the participants, if they agree, that will be used to get funding for the program. We want to offer 3 classes a year for the residents. Being part of this makes me light. I don't know how else to say it. I just smile and I am light.