Archives for posts with tag: photography workshop

I am all too aware that this dear blog of mine has been stagnating at the bottom of the ever-renewing cyber literary pool for over a month now, and I am not proud of that. I can only be honest in saying that this past month has been one of manically hemming the frayed ends for the final phase of the Street Children Photography Project. In fact, much of it had to do with the looming exhibition which I, having been all-engrossed in getting the kids to take photographs, hadn’t given much thought to in a while.  Suddenly, I found myself on a hamster wheel spun to the rhythm of the gallery I’d been in touch with over the past eight months. Well, they certainly cranked up the pace and, in doing so, whipped me into a frenzy…

At the end of March, the Centro Cultural de España gave me an [unexpected] deadline of mid-April to present them with the exhibit photographs, at a point when, admittedly, I still had minimal exhibit-able material. The following two weeks (down from my planned four) were a mad chicken-dash to achieve the production of a photographic exhibition by ten perplexed teenagers and children, who couldn’t understand why I had suddenly hit the acceleration button on their relaxing camera workshop. This was not the only new challenge April presented me with; the other was to write an exhibition statement that would unite 26 photographs fabricated from a multitude of personalities, backgrounds and circumstances, and that would not fall to the easy prey of lumping them together under the label of ‘street children’ (for I like to think we have progressed in our understanding of one another since the creation of this blog).

Having been presented with the desired photographs and statement, the Centro then had to know what sizes these photographs would be, and what would frame them, before they would concede to lending me their walls. It has recently come to my attention that I am someone unable to envision measurements without having a measuring device in front of them. This and the fact that I was clueless as to the dimensions of any space the photos might be exhibited in rendered it impossible for me to mentally conjure up the much sought-after photograph sizes. I had no idea. Lucky for me, they had a measuring tape at Carbón 4, the patient, helpful printers who put themselves at my disposal the day I turned up on their doorstep spluttering barely decipherable Spanish queries about street children, an exhibition and a discount.

To cut to the chase, and so that we can return to the core essentials of this blog, street children and photography, I will skip over some details and turn to the bottom line. The Centro Cultural de España had closed the doors on a May exhibition back in March, when I’d failed to present the materials then, despite an eight month continued contact regarding an exhibition for this month. Whilst disappointed, I might also be grateful to them. Grateful that they startled me from my contended lull and in four weeks had me reel in the numerous lines of this project in preparation for a smooth roll out to the finish. And, with fingers crossed and printers permitting, smooth it shall be. Thanks to the sharp reflexes of Casa Alianza, who immediately set to work on another location, the Museo Nacional de San Carlos, Mexico City, has granted me its 200-year-old walls on which to hang our modest treasures.

Finally, the paragraph you’ve all been waiting for. I have in my possession a second set of photographs taken by this blog’s star photographer, Miguel Ángel. I feel that this blog is as much the story about him as it is about this project. Throughout its entirety, he has been the single constant, coming and going but always, in the end, a man of his word.  Miguel Ángel is a changed boy since when I first met him in September. Back then he used to smile a lot, was very generous with his hugs and would comb and style my hair whilst chattering about this and that, very little of which I understood in those days. Those days are gone; these days I understand more and Miguel Ángel says little. He cracks an initial half-hearted smile, affords me a limp hug. After leaving Casa Alianza his story is very much a typical one for a teenager on Mexico City’s streets; crack, glue and prostitution have enwrapped him in their soporific shroud. When I’ve spoken to him, it seems his mind fumbles for something to grasp to – something to study, a career – but Street Life always grabs it back; the Street always takes this round, and the next.  This is really the first time I have encountered the rapid and irreversible demise of someone I care about. The second disposable camera I gave Miguel Ángel was my last attempt to draw a connection with him, or draw something out of him.

We saw one another again by chance. I was accompanying a young woman to a day care centre with the Casa Alianza street educators and it was there that I saw him for the first time in weeks. Skinnier, scraggier looking, he sidled over to me, eyes towards the floor, Hola Ale. He told me, with some excitement, that he would be going to see a play about an English king. Really? Which king? King Henry, he thought, it was a play by Shakespeare that was showing free to the public in Mexico City centre. So, he still likes his culture. That’s a good sign. He asked about la fotografía, I said I still had a disposable camera left over, and since he was the only one I really trusted to bring it back, would he like to take a second set of pictures.

I have assigned to these photographs the theme of ‘work and wandering’. A couple depict some of the means of self-employment popular amongst Mexican street children, and the rest are representative of the long, heavy days of wandering and sitting that are inherent a day routine dictated by homelessness.

Miguel Ángel self-portrait

A photo of the broken glass Miguel uses to perform ‘faquir’ on the metro. A peso or two is given to the street child for lying down on the broken glass.

In between cleaning car windscreens on the roadside.

Plaza del Zarco

Miguel is sat atop Mexico City’s sewage tunnel, also home to a community of teenagers and their babies.

By metro Hidalgo where many teenagers living on the street will go to wash windscreens at the traffic lights or prostitute themselves. Taxis are dependable clients.

Miguel’s best friend, Edwin.

It was only a matter of twenty-four hours from writing the last entry (The Roller-coaster) before the seat next to me on said ride became occupied once more. The occupier himself was a freshly shaven, snipped and painted Francisco Javier, all smiles and apologies. He claimed he had been staying with some friends in the neighbouring Estado de México; reality (as testified by friend Miguel Ángel) suspects that he was really plied by some Dirty Old Man with offerings of beauty treatment and a place to stay, indulgences tantamount to the holy sacrament for a homeless, gay prostitute of an impressionable fifteen years. But such atrocities are best not dwelt upon. The point is that he came back and he is with us to stay. Last Friday a nervous but cheerful Francisco Javier was successfully installed in the Casa Alianza boys’ home, excited by the possibility of a new future, even if it means he’ll have to find his own beauty treatments.

The morning of the ingression photographer Mauricio, Francisco Javier and I pored over the 20 or so disposable-camera images Francisco Javier had taken in the last two weeks of his soon-to-be old life. They may have been few but the story they told ran deep. It was a story about a small family: a prostitute, her young daughter and the boy who lived with them for two years, Francisco Javier.  The story was a portrait of them and their house, their surroundings and their solitude. Most of all, the photos are the reflections and intimate memories of Francisco Javier in his final days in that house with those women, and they echo the sounds of all they’ve been through together. I’m sure he will cherish those images for the rest of his life.

In the final four weeks of the photography part of this project, before we start preparing for the Mexico City exhibition, I have decided to take this approach with three other street children who are making regular contact with the Casa Alianza street educators. All three teenagers are eager to move into the homes, but the condition is that first they must complete two weeks of meetings with the educators to ensure their commitment. As part of this process, as with Francisco Javier, I will give them the disposable cameras with which to reflect on and tell the story of their last week on the streets. I hope, if all goes to plan, it will give them the chance to contemplate on an important transitional stage in their lives.

Below I present you with Francisco Javier’s story, as edited by Miguel Ángel, who arranged them in the way that he thought best told a narrative. I think the story they have created speaks volumes both for itself and for them.

Francisco Javier (Left)

Santa Muerte (Holy Death)

The following were not in Miguel Ángel’s edit:

Home

Rubbish in the area surrounding the house

Friends listening to music

I was planning for the second half of Sheyla’s life story to be gracing these pages for this next entry, but I’m afraid that that shall have to wait a little longer, for what I am about to recount now follows on splendidly from the last entry.  Once again, it is all to do with our photography enthusiast Miguel Ángel (and in case you were wondering, he did read the last entry, even going as far back as the video in which he features, pasting it all into Google translate).

Good old Miguel Ángel, he did it again. He surprised me, appearing when I least expected it. And it was not only him; by his side were Gerald and Oswaldo, two boys freshly escaped from the home as of Monday. I was overcome with this strange alien feeling, which I warily identified as parental concern, at seeing them outside of the home all snotty noses and dirty fingernails. I’ve grown a great fondness for Gerald and Oswaldo over the months, they have both been photography regulars and were the first to welcome me as a newcomer into the foundation in September. But like every cloud, this one too has its silver lining: newly immersed in the freedom of their own devices, they had independently decided that one of those devices was to be the street photography workshop, which they’d heard was taking place at 9am that morning. I was, well, chuffed! This ensures they will maintain a strong connection with Casa Alianza through the project and, we hope, lead to their return.

Our little group straggled towards the pitch for the usual preliminary game of football to get the juices flowing and the concentration levels up. Although, this time football was only enthusiastically received by our one female participant, Itzel, and two of the boys. Our group of young men were, for the most part, gay and intent on living up to the stereotype of their sexual orientation by sitting in the middle of the pitch cross-legged, gossiping and creating quite a shambles as they one by one paraded off the pitch on account of “tiredness”. If I sound spiteful I don’t mean to – I was secretly grateful for this behaviour, not being much of a Cristiano Ronaldo myself (in saying that, the street children who I’ve played football with in the past took to calling me Wayne Rooney. More on account of my goals than the potato head, I like to think. Sorry Wayne). The premature cessation of the game also meant we could get down to the part I like best, the nitty gritty photography stuff…

Andrés describes what he thinks about this photograph.

Enter Mauricio Palos. Without wanting to bestow too much praise upon him, I cannot miss out the part about how grateful I am for this photojournalist’s voluntary participation in the project. Over the next nine weeks, Mauricio will be helping me run the street photography workshop: it helps that he is both Mexican and a professional in the photography industry. For this first session, he magicked up a bundle of postcard photo images, themselves courtesy of a project called Foto Buzón from Yucatán, Mexico, which aims to promote photography as a communication medium through its free distribution in letter boxes and public spaces. Mauricio put the postcards to their assigned role and handed them out amongst the group; within minutes he had the boys and Itzel talking about the ins and outs of each photograph. He then had them taping the images onto the fence and encouraging passers-by to come and look at the display and take their favourite photograph home. The importance of this activity must not be overlooked – it had the teenagers interacting positively with members of the public. For youngsters who are so accustomed to asking, begging or even selling themselves for things, it was an opportunity for them to offer others something for absolutely nothing in return but a friendly smile between human beings.

Mauricio discusses with the group what they can read from the images their holding.

Gerald (front) and Oswaldo (back) tape up postcards, whilst a passer-by looks on with interest.

The group takes a break after much hard pasting work.

At the end of the session, the group were allowed to pick out their own favourite images to carry away with them in their pockets. Itzel peeled away from the fence a simple photograph of a green cactus against a bright blue wall. “Why have you picked that one, Itzel?” asked Mauricio. Itzel didn’t hesitate to reply, “Because,” she said, smiling, “it reminds me of my home. Lots of flowers everywhere, loads of colours, nice smells and the warmth.”

All seven of that group have agreed to come to next week’s session, in which we will invite members of the public to have their portrait taken. It is never certain who will turn up, but maybe, just maybe, I can count on the appearance of one person…

Iztel's first photograph. The boys take a break against the circus truck.