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Teaching photography and the great rewards that come from it…

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I have often tried to dispel as many of the sloppy clichés that photography – especially photojournalism has unfortunately sunk in to while writing on my blogs… Teaching photography def falls into that category.  It is often said in our rather snooty circles that only failed photographers teach… what a load of rubbish – or at least it should be with all photographers.  Teaching is not only about a job or even ‘giving back’.  It is an amazing way to hone your own skills and better yourself as a photographer on both a professional and a very personal level..

I had the pleasure recently to work with a group of 18 year olds – the first from the generation of ‘Born Free’s’ as they are called in SA from the townships in my locality through a local NGO called Lalela.  I taught them about photojournalism and mentored them in taking images for a nationwide competition organised by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation.  The theme was ‘Reconciliation’.

I found the kids amazing to work with and surprisingly receptive to ideas that students at international schools sometimes have difficulty grappling with.  It made me realise – that past the technical side, photography is such a personal expression and statement in life – I knew that before – but seeing it unfold before my eyes so easily with students that obviously have so many varied and different experiences and obviously have a lot to say was revelatory.

Being able to walk freely through the two local townships was another eye opener in itself – not so much because of the places themselves – I have obviously been to many for work – but the fact that literally 150m from my house is almost another world and existence so different from my own suburban one.  Where I live in Cape Town can be described as a micrcosm of the country as a whole – different communities living side by side but – on the whole – not really connecting with each other apart from the most perfunctory of contact.  It is such a shame and addressing it is fundamental to South Africa’s long-term prosperity – I’d even go as far as to say survival…

On a professional level, teaching the 18 year olds has been great in terms of making a breakthrough myself.  I had wanted to go into Hangberg – the local coloured community to do a long-term project there.  It had been hard for me to find ways to enter with cameras.  Unlike the black South African townships – such as the largest, Khayelitsha where I have ventured many times since I came to SA in 2009, always through local NGO’s, coloured communities – being slightly more affluent – do not get as much attention from NGO’s.  To be frank though the main problem is that coloured communities all over the Western Cape suffer from some of the most violent and lethal forms of gangsterism on the Continent fuelled in large part by an explosion of crystal meths use (or rather a dirty form known locally as ‘Tik’).  Recently, the army had to go in and restore some semblance of order in the main coloured community on Mitchells Plain.

While Hangberg is nowhere near as bad, it still suffers from the problem – and by all accounts it is getting worse. One of the boys I met while teaching who really took to the photography classes and understood what it was all about offered to accompany me as an assistant and I in return offered to firstly pay him and also train him further.  If it works out the teaching would have opened a big door for me professionally.

For the record – I love teaching photography in general– and teaching the 18 year olds from the townships has not only hopefully helped them in some small way – It has helped me.  I have found without fail that to be a better photographer you simply have to become a better, more focused and honest person. What better way to make a step towards this by teaching what I myself love so much. It is only when you are constructive and happy that you can realise your true expression in the art form.

This morn I received a phone call at 6.30am – I thought it was my girlfriend calling so I invariably answered and said ‘Hi sweets’ without even checking the number.  There was a pause.

‘Errr – Hi?’

‘Hi? – whose calling?’. I said realising rather embarrassed!

‘It’s Nomtha.  What time is photography classes today?’

‘Oh sorry Nomtha – you’re up early!  I’m afraid there are no more classes – you’ve entered the awards now.’

After a very brief moment’s reflection though – and maybe feeling the disappointment on the other end of the phone I added:

‘But I’ll talk to Lalela and try and arrange more.  You enjoyed them?’

‘Yeah’

‘Then let’s do it!’

And I meant it.  Look forward to doing it again some time soon…

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