100cameras’s picture-perfect path to empowerment

Photographs taken by children in the developing world are part of a fundraising roadshow in Sharjah this week.
Students at St Bartholomew’s Orphanage in Kajo Keji in a photo taken by Kabang. Courtesy 100 Cameras
Students at St Bartholomew’s Orphanage in Kajo Keji in a photo taken by Kabang. Courtesy 100 Cameras

Wearing identical pink dresses and surprisingly serious expressions, the three girls are staring down into the camera, which is held by their 14-year-old classmate Kabang. The girls are from St Bartholomew’s Orphanage in Kajo Keji, South Sudan, which serves as a home to 80 children who lost their families during the 21-year civil war.

The image, powerful because it captures the humanity of the subjects and offers a window into a world we rarely see, is currently on display in Sharjah’s Maraya Art Centre as part of a touring exhibition organised by Mobipix, a UAE-based photography collective.

The show is made up of images taken by children and young adults and is part of an initiative by 100cameras, a non-profit group based in New York, who use photography to empower children and use the stories to create tangible change in the children’s’ communities.

The images not only open our eyes to these untold stories, but all the proceeds from sales of these stri­king pictures go directly to help the children in the photographs.

“It is a beautiful concept because it not only motivates a child to do something creative and support their community, but it is also a way to nurture future artists,” says Reem Saeed, the founder of Mobipix.

“When I discovered the organisation, I was excited about it because I love social work and photography and this combines both.”

Through Mobipix, which is an outlet for new and established photographers to exhibit photos taken only on mobile phones, Saeed organises regular exhibitions and gatherings.

For this exhibition, a selection of the 100cameras images is on display alongside those from Mobipix members so that each set of images elevates the other.

“I am interested in social impact,” says Saeed, “and here the impact is tangible. I know there are a lot of photographers who aspire to do something with their talent and this is a very positive outlet.”

The exhibition, which runs until the end of the month, is part of a touring show that began in Dubai during Ramadan and will continue, after Sharjah, in Abu Dhabi and then the Northern Emirates – although Saeed doesn’t have venues secured in other locations yet.

“I have no limit in the number of locations I would like to show this, I can even take this internationally if the interest is there. The important thing is to show these stories and to raise funds for these children.”

The girls in Kabang’s picture appear alongside others from the South Sudanese community, in photographs by Josephine, Buba and Jackson – all teenagers from the same orphanage.

The orphanage was founded by IWASSRU (International Widows Association for Southern Sudanese Refugees in Uganda), a group of Sudanese war widows who banded together to care for refugee orphans. In 2008, when 100cameras began, the four founders visited the orphanage and gave the children cameras. Blown away by the results, they exhibited the photographs in New York and the concept grew from there. Now they have projects in India, Cuba and also at home in the United States and they aim to make a long-term impact.

With the funds raised by sales in South Sudan for example, 100cameras helps the children to buy food, water and medicine.

“I always try to find different ideas of a picture and an image to show to the community here in the UAE,” explains Saeed. “This is a great NGO and I am very enthusiastic about supporting them.”

The images from India are by children in the Russ Foundation, which brings changes to the Madurai District through a children’s home, community health services and Aids prevention.

In Cuba, 100cameras partnered with an independent, non-partisan, Spanish organisation called Campo Amor, which provides intermediary services to encourage community development, benefiting those who have been financially, socially and culturally excluded from society.

These images are displayed alongside a selection of UAE and Gulf nationals, who are part of Mobipix, as well as other expats.

The pictures, displayed on small square prints, give a colourful kaleidoscope of life in the region as seen through the eyes of a variety of residents. All proceeds from these also go towards helping the children.

“We wanted to display our work and donate the proceeds because it is our way of saying that we stand by these communities, too,” says Saeed. “As photographers we always ask ourselves why we take pictures and for many of us, it is not to win competitions or awards it is because we love it. This exhibition gives us another reason and another way to do something with the work and I totally love that.”

Mobipix with 100cameras fund-raising roadshow runs until August 31 at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah. For more information visit maraya.ae or 100cameras.org

aseaman@thenational.ae

Published: August 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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