Snapshot Project: Thailand
behind the scenes with snapshot project leader, becky lee
My name is Becky and this past January, my sister Charlotte, my brother Henry, and I spent a month teaching photography to students at Schools of Hope (SOH) in Chiang Dao and Chiang Mai, Thailand in collaboration with 100cameras.
SOH is based in Chiang Dao, a district about 2 hours north of Chiang Mai in Thailand, bordering Myanmar. Over 60 children ages 7-17 live at Schools of Hope. Most of the students are displaced from their families, so Schools of Hope is not just a school, but a home. Once, we asked an older boy if he had any brothers or sisters. He looked at the group of kids running around, laughed, and said, "I have a lot of them!"
The children study subjects like math, English, geography, science, and history in addition to local culture and optional vocational training in farming, mechanics, and environmental studies. Some are also in training to become Buddhist monks.
When Charlotte proposed the project to the director of the school, he was so thrilled. He said that in Thailand, arts education is often only for rich children. Part of the purpose of this program is to remind the students (and ourselves) that photography, and art, is for all. The director does the best he can with limited resources to see that the students at the school get every opportunity to succeed.
On our first day of class, we were led through the Schools of Hope campus, past the temple and dormitories (and roosters!) to a set of stairs. We took off our shoes and walked up to an open air treehouse where the photography classes would be held.
WE HAD PREPARED FOR AROUND 20 STUDENTS SO WHEN MORE THAN TWICE AS MANY SMILING FACES WERE EAGERLY AWAITING, IT WAS AN UNEXPECTED, YET WELCOME, SURPRISE. TIME FOR AN ICEBREAKER!
After some quick thinking, we split the big group up into three stations. At the first station, I introduced the mission of 100cameras - to provide kids with the tools to share their perspectives through photography and empower them to support their own communities. We looked at student photography from previous 100cameras projects in South Sudan, New York City, Cuba, and India as shown on the 100cameras website.
WITH EVERY PHOTO, OUR STUDENTS GOT A TASTE OF WHAT LIFE IS LIKE FOR OTHER CHILDREN ALL OVER THE WORLD AND BEGAN TO THINK ABOUT THE STORIES THEY WANTED TO TELL ABOUT NORTHERN THAILAND.
Using the 100cameras Snapshot curriculum, we explored photography techniques such as exposure, composition, shutter speed, aperture, color, and storytelling. We talked about which pictures we liked, and why, and how different techniques can create different moods and emotions. I made sure to share my favorite piece of photography advice - techniques are tools, not rules, and the "best" picture is the one that you like the most.
Henry's station focused on personal development and storytelling skills. The students drew storyboards reflecting on favorite memories, current passions, and future goals. His group also learned about descriptive and abstract language and practiced writing titles and captions to add context to their photos.
Charlotte's station was everyone's favorite - the Photo Station! At the Photo Station, students were given donated cameras and 30 minutes to take pictures and practice photography techniques. We gave out some prompts like "take a picture that makes you laugh" or "look up!" to get the creative juices flowing, but quickly realized that each student had his or her own style. Some students liked taking animal portraits while others preferred nature shots and landscape photography.
At the end of every class, we showed a slideshow of photos from that day. Seeing the kids' faces light up when one of their photos appeared on the big screen was our favorite part - the mix of pride, excitement, a little embarrassment, and the realization of hey, maybe I am a real photographer!
Hoping to magnify that feeling of accomplishment, we planned a full-scale photography exhibit at Thapae East, a local venue known for hosting creative events in its outdoor space, complete with an artsy, minimalist backdrop of bright red crossbeams. We transformed the space into an outdoor art gallery and invited friends, family, and the Chiang Mai community to enjoy a night of photography complete with live music and traditional Shan food and dance.
The event was a great success and really fun for the students and teachers alike but our work isn't over yet! Part of the 100cameras model is to help kids realize that they have the power to support their own community, in part through the sales of their artwork.
WE CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT THESE ARE SPECIAL KIDS, SOME OF THE MOST RESPECTFUL, HARD-WORKING, AND THOUGHTFUL CHILDREN WE HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED. WE HAVE NO DOUBT THAT THEY WILL GO FAR AND HOPE THAT PHOTOGRAPHY CAN BE AN OUTLET FOR THEM ALONG THE WAY.
Based on updated needs from Schools of Hope, 40% of funds will go toward new dormitory roofs to repair water damage and 60% will go toward a 60-day summer course for 1,500 students (!) in 20 remote villages to learn about their cultural heritage in addition to mathematics, traditional languages, literature, and community-based skills.
*Photos of the classes were taken by the hugely talented and dedicated photographer Jittrapon Kaicome who volunteered his time, expertise, and Thai translation services to the program.