Photo: Steve Thurston
When the students at the Arlington Academy of Hope primary school in Uganda picked up cameras on the first day of lessons late last year, they shot photos of each other. On the second day, when they were asked by their teachers from Arlington, Virginia to shoot photos of nature, their friends still stood in the pictures.
“They just started taking pictures of themselves and their friends on the first day,” said Veronica Perez, the Arlington Traditional School arts teacher who travelled to Uganda to work for two weeks with the students at AAH near Mbale, Uganda. On the second day, kids ended up in pictures of trees.
“Then we found out that they don’t have mirrors,” Perez said. It was the first many of them had touched a camera and the first time they had seen images of themselves. The pictures of their community in rural Uganda are of their friends and neighbors working or cooking, of their livestock and the landscape around them.
A world away, here in Arlington, 72 ATS students had already been taught by Perez over the course of eight weeks in September and October. They had shot photos of Arlington, of their school grounds and playgrounds, and of hallways and classrooms, and, yes, of their friends.
In the photos from Arlington and Africa, there are more than a few photos of children shooting photos of other children.
The program, “This Is My City” (“This Is My Community” in rural Uganda), the brainchild of Arlington Arts Center, is in its fourth year, but this is the first time the center has tried it with elementary-age kids. Sara Yousefnejad, a development associate with Arlington Arts Center, said the idea is to bring cultural and international understanding through photos.
“You can see a place, or you can have people from that place show you that place through their eyes,” said Yousefnejad, who teaches in the program. She travelled to Africa with Perez.
The photos from three of the years are on display in the Jenkins gallery and other rooms, downstairs at the AAC building. Children from 8 to 18 years old from Arlington, Uganda, Mexico and El Salvador shot the photos. About 160 pictures are mounted and a roughly equal number are shown on a slide show, said Ashley Cooksley, an intern with AAC who curated this show, her first. On display now, the show runs through June 10.