As we progressed through the end of the week, it was clear to all of us that this was an unusual group of students with whom we had a special relationship. They seemed to “get” everything, and enthusiastically incorporated their new skills almost immediately. No timidity. No holding back. None of the Buddhist constraint that we were told might occur. They were open, connected, emotional, communicative, and rapidly and increasingly skilled.
Part of the premise of the workshops is to teach the telling of the stories important to our NGO partner through the language of photography. As the week developed, the students began to tell the stories. We started with the fun, uplifting ones – playgrounds and early education. We interspersed periods of technique practice through “open shoots” in which the students could pick their own subjects during interesting field trips.
Soon, however, the stories became more difficult, both technically and emotionally. First, we were assigned the story of the youth centers. Many technical challenges here, from difficult angles to bad lighting. Then we moved on to career opportunities for young adults. With very little time, and almost no advance information, students had to quickly formulate the facts, develop a point of view and create the visual elements to create the message. Then they visited a mobile library with cramped quarters and harsh light. This was not an easy task for our students, and it tested their skills and ingenuity.
Remember, we required them to operate their cameras solely in manual mode. Remarkably, with all of the aforementioned difficulties notwithstanding, not one of the students ever requested to shoot in an automated mode. They handled the angles and the light situations by confronting their shutter speeds, apertures and ISOs, and adjusting their focus, while maintaining the constancy and momentum of their thought process and connection to their stories. This was an incredible accomplishment for beginning students with only a few scant days of instruction behind them.
However, their most challenging assignment (though in the end, the most rewarding) was to photograph the operations of Ability Bhutan Service, the STC-sponsored NGO that cares for ability challenged young people living with conditions such as autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis. The subjects ranged in age from very young children to one young lady of 20 years with severe celebral palsy. Many parents were present to interact with their children, presenting another wonderful story of devotion and loving care.
They began in the ABS center dealing with difficult settings: large tables, disparate light situations, exercise equipment, cramped quarters and many people in the background (including other photographers in their group). Then we moved to the houses of other children, presenting even more issues in light and composition. Coincidentally, the “Yellow” group which got this assignment was led by myself and Thomas Kelly. So not only were we pressing them to remember all that they had learned technically (after all, this was Thursday, so they had all of five days of instruction), but we were relentless about staying connected intellectually and emotionally to the children, their parents, and their situation. The result of all of this was a collection of images that is so moving and so professional, that only an actual viewing of the slideshow can adequately describe it.