Photography giving a voice to Nebraska youth
March 21st, 2014
Omaha, NE — Buffalo County Community Partners is a non-profit organization headquartered in Kearney.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Photovoice_KVNO.mp3]
According to its website, BCCPâ€™s mission â€œis to assess, strengthen, and promote the health of Buffalo County.â€
With this goal in mind, BCCP started the PhotoVoice Project, which uses photography as a medium to bring together kids from various backgrounds.
Teresa Lopez, the only girl in the class, said she looks forward to the two hour sessions every week.
â€œI just love photography. My family has just been around photos for so long, so thatâ€™s what made me [want] to come to this,â€ Lopez said.
Lopez and the other students are each given an easy-to-use digital camera. Theyâ€™re told to capture certain types of photos each weekâ€”things like landscapes or self-portraitsâ€”then they discuss their photos with the group.
Some of the shots are funny and light-hearted, others serious and sad.
Mark Foradori is the youth coordinator with Buffalo County Community Partners. He said photography can offer a healthy, creative outlet to many students. Just like any other extra-curricular activity, Foradori said students who embrace photography are able to express themselves in ways they might not be able to otherwise.
â€œThey have a different perspective on things. Theyâ€™re all middle school and high school aged students, and their world is completely different than the world of adults,â€ Foradori said.
The aim of PhotoVoice is to help kids make better decisions. Funding for the project comes from the Nebraska Crime Commission in the form of a grant worth about $8000.
At-risk youth in Buffalo Countyâ€™s juvenile justice system are given first priority to enroll in the class, but Foradori said you donâ€™t need to be an at risk-youth to benefit from it.
â€œItâ€™s more like an enrichment program, and it can be kind of a mentoring situation for them. Some of them are inspired by it and take off with it, and some of them just move on to the next thing. Just like any other student activity,â€ Foradori explained.
Because some of the youth in the PhotoVoice project are in the juvenile justice system, we canâ€™t identify them for this story. One such teen sparked a conversation about the frailty of life after he shared a photo of his new tattoo.
â€œItâ€™s for my friend that passed away. He was only 15, actually 16â€¦him and his friend were going down the highway and hit some loose gravel and flipped the car,â€ he said.
This type of open discussion is the reason why the PhotoVoice project was started. Foradori said he wants to create a safe environment where students can discuss whatâ€™s going on in their lives, using the photos as the jumping off point.
Psychologist Judy Weiser calls this technique Therapeutic Photography, which is similar to Phototherapy, a field she helped pioneer in 1974, when she began using photographs during therapy sessions. She was working with deaf native children in Canada, and said the photographs made it easier to communicate.
According to Weiser, she soon realized the power photography could play in helping people characterize their feelings and express themselves.
There are differences in PhotoTherapy and Therapeutic Photography, usually the presence of a licensed mental health professional, but Weiser said the core principles remain the same.
â€œThe meaning of a photograph, isnâ€™t in the photograph. The details on the surface tell you what itâ€™s a picture of, they donâ€™t tell you what itâ€™s a picture about,â€ Weiser explained, â€œbecause itâ€™s about something different to each and every person that views it. Including the peron that took it.â€
In Weiserâ€™s opinion, what we think a picture is about depends on who we are, where we came from, our life experiences, our personalityâ€¦everything that makes us individuals.Â She called it â€œbasic phenomenologyâ€ and gave this example.
â€œJoey shows Bobby a photo and Joey explains the [what he sees] and Bobby goes â€˜Man, thatâ€™s not what I saw in there. Hereâ€™s what I saw in thereâ€™ and they have a conversation. And in that conversation is the learning that they need to step back and think first before they have an expectation or make a decision. And you canâ€™t teach that directly,â€ Weiser said.
By creating a language of sorts to help people deal with their emotions, Weiser said photographs can actually help an individual grow as a person.
Teresa Lopez, from the Kearney class, said thatâ€™s exactly what photography, and the Photovoice project, has done in her life.
When asked how she takes pictures, Lopez said, â€œMost people want it to be perfect. I donâ€™t want it to be perfect. I just want it to be an everlasting memory for me.â€
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