REFLECTIONS FROM SNAPSHOT HOI AN
Snapshot Hoi An Leader, Kelly Johnson, reflects on the project in partnership with Bright Futures for Kids.
In 2018, 7 incredible students learned to tell their stories through 100cameras Snapshot Hoi An in Hoi An, Vietnam. In partnership with Bright Futures For Kids (BFFK), a local non-profit organization that serves kids located in a remote village about forty minutes outside of Hoi An and seeks to create a safe space where kids can be playful and creative in their learning.
Vietnamese culture is very community-oriented, rarely drawing attention to the individual. Thus, to share personal opinions and ‘new’ ways of thinking can be considered outside of cultural norms, drawing too much attention to the self.
The majority of students’ families work in construction, farming, or are small business owners and cleaners -- all who work long, hard hours to provide for their family. In a culture where emotions are practiced to be more reserved, the students are bright and creative, always laughing and finding resourceful ways to entertain themselves. Yet the pressures of society or long days or reserved emotions can take their toll.
For example, one of the students was in the midst of a serious domestic crisis throughout the Snapshot course. A family member was threatening harm. This student, the eldest of three siblings, was clearly trying to be strong for their family while living in a perpetual state of fear. As the situation worsened, they appeared less focused, far less playful, and emotionally vacant during the lessons. I desperately wanted photography to become a tool for coping, healing, and self-expression but knew the student needed to decide this on their own.
The student spent the first half of the lessons distracted and unengaged. And then something switched. They began to participate and ask questions, becoming increasingly proud of their work with their photos reflecting this change in perspective and applying concepts from the photography toolbelt. The pictures captured unique perspectives - petals strewn across concrete and blurry sunset skies. Though our classes couldn’t take away the painful situation, they served as an outlet for playful expression and creative healing.
Even if the student forgets everything they learned about advanced camera settings and compositional technique, it seems that they will not forget the feeling of photographing their giggling siblings, parent’s shop, or a brightly colored flower.
Overall, even when the students’ responses felt minimal and discussions too brief, it was clear that they were listening. Witnessing them make significant one degree changes - moving from photographing obvious and less personal scenes, such as buildings and trees - to capturing the more intimate moments and details of their lives, such as sisters jumping in the rain, friends in a river, and a mom in the garden.
By the end of eight weeks, each student had come into their own style. In fact, I was able to identify the majority of the student’s photos without their names attached. This ownership of style and confidence in photographing what they deemed to be most interesting, most lovely, and most profound served as evidence of the student’s application of our lessons to their personal lives.
Our final Snapshot Hoi An Photo gallery was a stand-out moment - not only because it was a chance to celebrate the student's hard work, but because it was a treat to witness parents, friends, and general community members light up while viewing the photos. This experience embodied one of the many impacts of the Snapshot Project in the community - a celebration of the everyday, empowering the individual's story, and photography as a powerful tool of self-expression.
In Vietnamese culture, it is uncommon to draw attention to oneself or one's work - thus many of the students had never been acknowledged for their creative voice. There is no doubt that the Snapshot Project will have a lasting effect in the community and will continue to empower Bright Future For Kids' students to know that their story matters.
The students appeared particularly proud of themselves at our graduation ceremony. They loved holding their certificates and wanted to take many photos with them. It appeared that the majority of them didn’t realize the depth of their accomplishments until graduation. The Snapshot course gave the students a platform to expand their self-confidence and transform the ways in which they see beauty and value in their everyday lives. I hope that they will continue to use photography as a tool of expression and creativity far into their futures.