Photography Can Communicate What We Often Can't
June 26, 2018
Photography Can Communicate What We Often Can’t
By Solana Cain, Community Journalism Trainer
All images taken by Grade 7 and 8 students at Baibombeh Anishinabe School on Friday, June 1, 2018
I was introduced to photography at a young age. I had no idea it would lead to a freelance career. I just knew that it was fun and offered a sense of pride when I got to see the images I had created – once developed. Fast forward, almost two decades, and the ease of digital photography has enabled instant gratification when it comes to viewing your work. Smartphones have put a camera in virtually everyone’s hand – and the powerful sensors in these small devices are not to be taken for granted.
It’s not surprising to discover that photography is a strong interest among many community members in Naotkamegwanning. In fact, Baibombeh Anishinabe School used to run a photography program for its high school students.
When I held my first workshop on photojournalism for grade 7 and 8 students at Baibombeh, I decided to skip camera mechanics at first and get straight into how to make the photos they’re already taking more dynamic. I shared tips like – look for interesting angles, fill your frame, watch the way light falls on your subject, take your time and, of course, Henri Cartier Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.
Then we went outside.
Their teacher Marni Fisher had been the one to suggest incorporating an outdoor activity into my lesson and a coincidental trip to Mastermind Toys in Winnipeg where large kites were strung up around the store’s perimeter gave me a lightbulb moment.
Because there weren’t as many cameras as students, they would have to share and flying kites was something fun to do while waiting for a camera. Also, those with a camera had a great activity to try and photograph. One camera had a zoom lens while the other a fixed, wide angle. At first, the zoom lens was a hot commodity but after encouraging students to use their body, and to embrace the effect that a wide angle could give if you got really close or far away. Suddenly there was no longer a lens preference.
I was finally beginning to see these young individuals start to come alive behind a lens. It’s not that they hadn’t been paying attention or weren’t engaged in the classroom setting but unlike the teens I was familiar with, they were very reserved, especially around newcomers. It was common for Naotkamegwanning’s teens to retreat into their hoods when asked a direct question or to let a question hang in the air until I answered it. I have been told this level of shyness extends to parents in the community as well. I respect it and don’t push anyone but my eagerness to experience more of their personalities was growing. Finally, under flying kites and behind the camera lens, I could see their individuality.
Trying to get the kites to stay in the sky meant running around the field behind Baibombeh School. I gladly took on the tiring task, which brought a smile to everyone’s face. More than once, a student would launch a kite in one hand while holding the line in the other. The wind would catch the kite, they’d let go and show me that in fact no running was needed. Cars driving by idled and even stopped to watch the flying dragon and large monarch butterfly floating in the sky above the kids. Even a couple dogs that roam the rez came to check out the commotion.
It was an overcast day, with lots of wind, so it was ideal for kite flying and picture taking. I watched students try to capture different angles by getting low to the ground. Some students ran further away to capture nice wide shots. While others recalled the rule-of-thirds and deliberately put their subjects off centre.
Too soon, it was almost time for lunch and kites had to be reeled in. I didn’t ask for cameras to be returned immediately and everyone took full advantage of the dwindling time. Creating pictures in the hallways of their art, compelling their hall monitor to model, and snapping photos of themselves up until the very last moment.
One student hung back to show me the images she captured. She pointed out the ones she liked the most. The ones she was most proud of. I told her I’d make sure to bring a USB key with all her images the following day.
Community journalism training is an integral part of JHR’s larger Indigenous Reporters Program. In-community training in Ontario is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.