Tonight Janne and I watched Born into Brothels, which won the 2005 Academy Award as the Best Documentary. Photographer Zana Briski went to Calcutta to take photographs in the red light district. When she saw the kids' fascination with cameras, she began giving them cameras and film and developing their photos. She talked with them about their work and about photographic principles, and some of the results are stunning. Briski arranges field trips to the zoo and ocean for these incredibly impoverished girls and boys.
Given their cramped existence in brothels where their mothers turn tricks on the other side of a thin curtain and where they come under constant verbal, sometimes physical abuse, it's astonishing that they are so full of life and so open to Briski's guidance. They are charming and in their own language (subtitled with English) can be very articulate in explaining visual effects. The most gifted is 11-year-old Avijit, already an award-winning artist. Briski works for weeks through agonizing bureaucracy to get him a passport so that he can represent India in a youth photography conference in Amsterdam. Incredibly, he's able to go. And later, like several of the others, he is admitted to a good boarding school where he has some hope for the future.
Most of the group, however, seem destined to remain in the brothels of Calcutta. The girls who remain will surely wind up on "the line" like their mothers. The film is visually intense, catching the teeming masses in Calcutta and the maze-like ghetto where the prositutes ply their trade illegally. The website for the film contains photos and descriptions of the kids, as well as samples of their work.
Similar to Briski's "Kids with Cameras" project is California photographer Jamie Lloyd's Ghana Youth Photography Project. Jamie served an internship with a newspaper in Accra, Ghana and got the idea of putting cameras in the hands of kids in Nima, a poor, predominantly Muslim district. I profiled Jamie in the Summer 2006 issue of Talking Drum, newsletter of Friends of Ghana. Jamie posted a YouTube clip on the project which has had nearly 250,000 hits. She sent in an update on the project, which may be found in the Spring 2007 Friends of Ghana newsletter. Jamie's own photos, documenting her extensive world travel, are found here.