GIVE a street kid a camera. Teach him how to use it. Ask him to take photos of everyday
life as he sees it. But not without considering the story behind the pictures and
why it is important to him.
Glue-sniffing boys in ragged T-shirts, kids sleeping on benches . . . all have an unmistakable bleakness
This is what community organization Friends/Mith Samlanh and photographer Philippe
Lopez did. Six street kids aged 16 to 19 were given the task of depicting their environment
with disposable cameras and the result of their photographic explorations were on
display last week at the organization's facilities on Street 174.
Visitors to the exhibition were granted a rare, intimate glimpse into Phnom Penh
street life, portrayed in 16 uncompromising photos. All had an unmistakable bleak
touch to them, but whether it was the colors or the motifs that created this impression
is hard to tell.
Glue-sniffing boys in ragged T-shirts, kids sleeping on benches or under cardboard
boxes, trash collectors, a video arcade, a naked child lugging bricks and a man lying
wounded in the street after a traffic accident.
Scenes from the back alleys of Phnom Penh and close-ups of disregarded existences.
All of it seen through the eyes - or rather lenses - of youngsters who have already
spent years living in the streets near Psah Thmay.
And while certain pictures had obvious photographic qualities, others told a carefully
Like the apparently innocent shot of two women and their children sitting on the
pavement; 18-year old Chantha explains why this is his favorite picture:
"The woman in the blue dress is selling glue. So this photo is evidence that
adults sell glue to the street kids," he says.
And there was the one of a young boy sleeping peacefully in broad daylight. He was
actually one of the participants in the photo project and the picture was taken by
one of his friends on the day he failed to show up for the workshop.
As the captions showed, a lot of thought and consideration had gone into every one
of the exhibited photos. And that was exactly the main purpose of the project.
"This is an idea that we have had for a long time. We wanted the children to
see themselves and their lives from the outside and make them think about it,"
says Sebastien Marot of Friends/Mith Samlanh.
The workshop itself was conducted by photographer Philippe Lopez. During two half-day
sessions he taught the children basic photographic skills: how frame a picture, always
to think about the background and the light, do both vertical and horizontal shots
and get close to the object.
He also pointed out that there always had to be a story in the photos and that they
had to think about why they wanted to take a particular picture.
With theoretical instructions in place, the photographers-to-be had two days of shooting.
Each kid was allowed to take 15 photos every day.
"Later, they all came with me to pick up the processed films at the photo lab
and they were very excited," says Lopez.
After discussions about the quality of the first batch of photos the children were
sent back out in the streets with their cameras to shoot another 15 photos each.
The 16 exhibited pictures were picked out from a total of almost 300.
"I helped them choose the photos for the exhibition and we talked a lot about
why some of the pictures were good and others were not. Some were too far away from
the object. Some had been in a bad position for the light. Some had good stories
for them. Some did not," says Lopez, who is genuinely proud of his pupils.
He is already preparing for a new group of apprentices to take up their disposable
Marot points out that one of the advantages of the photo workshop is that the kids
are rewarded the chance to see a tangible result of their efforts.
"And street children need fast results," he adds.
Unfortunately, the photos were only on display for about a week. Friends/Mith Samlanh's
premises on Street 174 is a day center for glue-sniffing street kids and the exhibition
room was needed for other activities.
"But if we could find a nice place to hang them permanently, we'd be happy to
do that," says Marot.