Art education: the first thing jettisoned from U.S. public schools in their struggle to stay afloat. Private art classes in the United States can cost as much as $500 a session; an indulgence deemed by many Americans as impractical. For families with parents working two jobs, barely getting by, it’s often not possible. Red Hook, Brooklyn, a town where 8000 out of the 1100 inhabitants live in public housing, has proven otherwise.
The Red Hook Community Photography Project, initiated by the Red Hook Community Justice Center, gives up to 20 kids, between the ages of 15-18, an opportunity to learn digital photography. The project, which began in 2006 thanks to a grant from the Edith Glick Schoolman Children’s Foundation, specifically targets kids who were involved in minor crimes and are finishing their court mandates. James Brodick, director of the Red Hook Community Center, said that a lot the young people that are arrested for minor crimes, have family or mental health issues. “We saw the photography project as a way for them to engage with the community and as a positive way towards reform,” said Brodick. The Community also accepts young individuals who want to learn the art of picture taking.
A professional photographer teaches the students the mechanics of manipulating photographs along with basic photo composition. Kids are given a stipend and a digital camera that they keep at the end of the 8 week course that meets three days a week for six ours a day.
Photographs from the first session are currently on display at the Brooklyn Waterfront Art Coalition. The collection, entitled “Through Our Eyes” showcases images from the kid’s neighborhoods and the stories behind each photo. What is apparent is how the experience changed the kid’s perspective of their own neighborhood. One young man wrote how he intended to show how bad Brooklyn was, but changed his mind after he saw how many beautiful pictures of the neighborhood he had. Another girl made pollution the theme of her photo collection after she noticed that trash was the constant in all of her pictures.
Ronda Vatel titled her project, “Today is a Good Day,” inspired by her mother who is always taught her to live each day to the fullest. Asked if she was still doing photography after the programs completion Ronda said, “I am a photographer.” Of the other kids who finish the program, “A lot of them tell me they’re the official family photographer,” said Brodick.
As Red Hook is swept up in the tide of gentrification, projects such as this one are essential to preserving the voices of those who grew up there.
(Photos from the project: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhcjcphotographyproject/)