Two trees stretch into the sky, their gnarled limbs reaching across the width of their photographic frames, subtle shadows adding depth to their interstices. One tree is shown in full, bright color, the other in a grittier black and white. Other than that, theres little difference between the two pictures. Yet they were shot in two worlds separated by vast geographic and economic distance.
A Global Insight combines the fruits of two different projects in a way that brings new meaning to both. Kids with Cameras was founded four years ago by photographer Zana Briski as a way to inspire and empower impoverished children in Calcutta, India. She gave them cameras and with extensive coaching, encouraged them to record their environment the people close to them, friends, street life, themselves. Although these kids have a shitty childhood in the red light district of an overcrowded third world country, their photographs are suffused with a beautiful light, populated by smiling peers and reflect a vivid imagination that belies their birthright.
Kids with Cameras was documented in the Oscar-winning film Born into Brothels, and since its inception the project has spread to other worthy locations: Haiti, Jerusalem, Cairo. About 20 of the Indian photos are accompanied by 20 more from our neck of the woods thanks to The Palmetto Project, a nonprofit, private organization established to improve the quality of life in South Carolina, which mentors children through its Viewpoint program.
The similarities between the two initiatives are clear give the young uns a mode of self-expression to lift them out of their hardship. As far as that goes, both projects are an unmitigated success. In this instance, the process of creating the images is far more important than the images themselves.
That said, the children have a refreshing, low-angle way of looking at things, and the subjects they choose are often the kinds you might expect (friends, homes, animals). Judging by the quality of the chosen exhibits, the kids have been left to shoot whatever takes their fancy with the minimum of helpful advice from adults. Viewers shouldnt come looking for perfect composition or stunning originality here; this is life plain and simple. Only the backgrounds of the pictures tell a darker, broader story the Calcutta selections include streets filled with trash, graffiti and decay. By comparison, while the photographers from Charlestons Lower East Side have better prospects, theyre less inspired in their choice of pictures. Judging from their material and the way its been juxtaposed with the Kids with Cameras stills, life is a lot simpler here. The color has a lot to do with it, contrasting ornate Bengali art and bright layered clothing against our monochrome sidewalks and beaches.
In the long term, theres no telling whether the worthy efforts of Viewpoint will pay off. The children admittedly have a long way to go if theyre to progress as photographers. But now that theyve gained this global insight, they have been provided with an invaluable inkling of how tough life can be in other parts of the world, and how support from hard-working individuals can make a difference.
The Born into Brothels and Viewpoint documentaries will be screened June 5 at 10:30 a.m. at the Main Charleston County Library, 68 Calhoun St. Call 805-6930 for more details.A GLOBAL INSIGHT: THROUGH THE EYES OF KIDS Piccolo Spoletos Visual Arts FREE On view through June 11; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Addelstone Library, 205 Calhoun St. 724-7305