They Exceeded All Expectations

By • on September 3, 2012

The Association of Photographers and CIM implemented the first cycle of workshops for young Roma within the Eye of the Street project. Without using any professional equipment the workshop participants took many fantastic photographs that were put on sale in order to provide funds for the photographers’ further education.

If you want to get to know and help some of the people behind the lens, you need to put yourself in their shoes and understand their angle ofe looking at things. This will also enable them to discover ways in which they can help themselves. This was the guiding idea for the people behind the “Eye of the Street” project initiated by the Association of Photographers in partnership with the Center for Youth Integration.

The workshop participants, young Roma from the Drop-In Center in Belgrade, were trained to take photos with mobile phones instead of cameras. With the help of the people behind the project, Željko Safari and Dragan Kujundžić, they mastered the basics and went out into the streets of Belgrade to take photos that capture the city they grew up in.

“The general topic was Belgrade”, says Dragan Kujundžić who went along with the young people from the Drop-In Center to the photo shootings. “We deliberately avoided offering a more specific topic. We trusted their imagination and the fact that they know very well the streets of their city. We wanted them to present their city as they see it, to present it through photographs. We wanted them to get involved, pinpoint their problems and solve them. And we were not wrong in our approach. The only directions from our part consisted in us taking them to certain parts of the city. Everything else was up to them “, he explains.

As expected, they did great. According to Dragan, they actually exceeded all expectations.

“I really liked the fact that I could take photos of people while, for example, hiding behind a fence. I mean, I wasn’t hiding, they just couldn’t see me and they went about their business.”, says Mirko, one of the participants of the workshops. “So I could use the camera to tell their story. Then there were all those buildings, sunset at Kalemegdan, everything that makes the Belgrade that we see. ”

When asked which Belgrade is more beautiful, the one he sees through the lens, or the one he finds in himself when standing in front of someone else’s lens, after thinking for a second, Mirko answered: “Both are equally beautiful.

Perhaps I will be able to help someone by taking their photographs and telling their story, just like other people wanted to help me by taking some photographs of me as a street child. And yet there are many other beautiful things in this city that sometimes cannot be observed with the naked eye, but can be captured by a camera. That’s why I like photography a lot.”

Learning photographing techniques and translating individual ideas and lives into photography is not the only purpose of this project. Everyone, especially kids and young people, find it important to get a chance to have their work noticed and appreciated. Hence, the photos they made during the two-month photography project found their place in three exhibitions.

These were held at the Youth Center, the Rex and during the Mikser Festival. All the photographs were on sale at these exhibitions and the money earned was intended for establishing a fund for training and developing the talent of the young people who gather at the Drop-In Center.

So far, a part of the money needed for educating five people has been raised by selling the photographs to companies and individuals. But the sales will continue and everyone hopes that by selling as many photographs as possible more Roma will be able to continue their education or develop some skills and crafts that would enable them to make a living.

“I spend all my time on the streets and I wish I had my own camera. A real one”, Mirko continues his daydreaming. “I’m sure I could capture so many things. I am saving the money I earn from selling newspapers because I would like to finish school first and then to enroll in a photography course. I would also like to have my own camera and to turn this into my profession.”

The people conducting the workshop have also noticed Mirko’s talent, and Dragan Kujundžić says that their association will try to do something to provide further training for Mirko, since he has demonstrated great talent and an eye for photography, as well as a great desire to learn and make photography his profession.

Due to the great interest shown by these young people, steps have been taken to quickly raise funds for the second cycle of the Eye of the Street project and to, as pointed out in the Drop-In Center, launch an initiative to restore the somewhat forgotten practice of apprenticeship.

“The children showed a great enthusiasm while working on this project and we’d like to make sure that they retain that enthusiasm and to somehow enable them to continue doing this.”, says Jelena, one of the coordinators at the Drop-In Center.

“It would be great if other organizations or individuals helped young people find a place to volunteer as photojournalists, for example, or perhaps get an opportunity to continue learning and perfecting this craft for a symbolic fee.”

Learning is what matters: A large number of users of the Drop-In Center are willing to get involved in all programs and projects the center offers. Teenagers are especially active, many of them have been coming here for years and have learned a lot over time. “I get involved in an activity to see what it is all about and whether I like it. Why shouldn’t I do something for myself here when I am given an opportunity?”, says Emir, one of the participants of the photography workshop. “It is always important that you try and learn. Especially if something is as interesting as this training was to us. You go around town and take photos of everything you see regardless of whether you like it or not.”

We could use additional equipment: the equipment used for the implementation of the workshops within the Eye of the Street project was provided by Telekom Srbija and Comtrade. They provided mobile phones with cameras whose technical characteristics meet the criteria for printing good quality photographs. In addition to the phones, a digital camera was also used, as well as a go-pro camera used by extreme athletes, which may also serve as a photo camera. All in all, the children used the available equipment to make some great shots and videos. “It would be nice if for the next training we could provide them with digital cameras that the most talented among them could keep,” says Dragan Kujundžić.

See more of the photos here.