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 – 2018
Incredible project! – Please visit: 2018 Project
V3 of the project was based in the border town of Katuna, in Southwest Uganda, where for a few weeks I was working with a group of young vulnerable children whose mothers are all known to the organisation I partnered with, through their profession and/or their HIV status.
The organisation in question works with females who are sex workers in the border towns. They provide incredible support for the women (health, legal & education) while also providing necessary support for the children in the form of centre days, which include education, play and ‘handy work’ (manual & craft skills)
I am really privileged to be able to work with these children, opening their world up to the wonders of photography and imagery.
April 2018 – WHAT A PROJECT – check out the blog posts for the latest news
Early 2019 Update
Obviously, the main news is the fantastic response from the latest exhibition of the children’s work at the Playhouse in Norwich.
Thanks so much to those of you who attended the supporters evening. I trust you all enjoyed viewing the work at such a lovely vibrant venue.
One of the huge positives of the venue is the sheer diversity of the audience that were able to view the work, something, as a photographer I am always aspiring to. I received some wonderful feedback on both the images and the story of the project and that of the children.
I’ve been giving lots of talks recently – in fact it’s almost been one every 10 days or so. Remember, if you have a club or society, I would be more than happy to come and talk about the project. Perhaps one of the most interesting talks of late was one in Norwich, given to the Norwich & Norfolk Association of the Blind and their photographic group.
The donations have continued to flow in for the project, in both financial and equipment terms – in fact, following a couple of hugely productive talks, three sizeable donations (as well as many just as important, smaller donations) came in for the project, from Roger Harrod, Joan in Oulton Broad & Alan @ CHPV – thank you so much! While a box of cameras has also been soured from the lovely Francesco at WEX photo In Edinburgh (as well as donations from many more you)
I’ve been in pretty constant communication with Ronald at Eden School, who is so keen to develop the photography further and has recently got someone in to teach further digital photography to some of the students – I’m unsure of the exact teachings and possibilities at the moment. Sarah, at Katuna Marps (who I worked with in 2018) is also on my radar and I continue to communicate directly with her, considering reworking the project with some more of her vulnerable children, but also directly developing relationships with the mothers, perhaps in some way empowering them to change their work and possible life outcomes, as many of you know, I’m deeply concerned by one or two of the young girls I worked with in 2018, who will be coming to the end of their education shortly and I fear may follow their mother into the profession.
Prima & Vincent – the two children living in the mountains, alone suffering with HIV have again been at the forefront of chats and developments. I have offered to send some finance to help with the education of these two young children – however, Sarah (Katuna Marps) believes that building them a basic permeant home is the most suitable investment – I’m unsure at the moment – we are continuing to discuss this and looking for the best way forward.
In the meantime, I have just sent these two lovely children (via Sarah) 135,000 ugx for Christmas. I’ve asked Sarah to purchase some special food for them and provide a little help over the festive period.
While still considering the options for working with Marps again on the border, I have been having in depth conversations with authorities in Rwanda. Celestin is someone I met in 2012, when I cycled to Rwanda – he was part of the Olympic committee that we flew back to London with and I’ve stayed in touch with him ever since. Celestin, now living in Japan, kindly put me in touch with someone at the Rwandan regional government who works with disability centres across the country. They are very keen to implement the project in the near future. I guess it’s another case of watch this space.