50 Children. 50 Cameras.

Francis and Stephanie Lane are the founders of silent tapes, a non-profit that uses photography to document the lives of people in various slums around the world. Their latest project will take place this summer in the favelas of Fortaleza, Brazil, where they will lead a five-week photography workshop for 50 children between the ages of 12 and 18.

Francis and Stephanie hope to compile the photographs and writings in a book that will be distributed to selected schools, libraries, and community centers. They also want to showcase the images in New York City later this year.

Columbia Visuals: Why Brazil?   

silent tapes: We had been thinking about going to Brazil this year, and it just happened that the World Cup is taking place at the same time. But then we started reading more and more about the displacement that’s increasing because of the World Cup and how the situation seems to be worsening for the people in the favelas.

CV: Why did you decide to give cameras to the children and not take the photographs yourselves?

st: Our first project in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum was more about our photography and our interpretation. But with the situation going on in Brazil, we felt that there was no more honest way of telling the story than to allow these children to actually do it themselves.

CV: Do you think that letting them tell their stories will allow you to break misrepresentations about the favelas?

st: That’s part of the reason why we are letting them take the photographs. The situation in the favelas is extreme and there’s poverty, but at the same time there’s a lot of hope and happiness.  But the way that these types of places are normally portrayed through mainstream media is very depressing in a way; almost belittling.

CV: How are you reaching out to the communities?

st: We partnered with a local organization in Fortaleza. They do a lot of work in the city’s major slums and they are the ones who are recruiting the children. The workshop will be held at the community center that is already there.

CV: How are you going to overcome your ‘outsider’ status?

st: In these types of places you have to build a bond and a relationship with the people that you’re working with. Specifically in the favelas, there’s a lot of weight on respect and loyalty. Us being there in advance and spending time with these families and really investing and getting to know them rather than just showing up and just trying to take a photo of them is really important.

CV: Can you talk about the structure of the workshops?

st: We’re probably going to be seeing the children twice a week and we’ll be handing them new cameras every time they come back. More than focusing on the technical aspect of photography, we want them to express their feelings through the photographs. Each week we will have different themes and we’ll give them guidance in terms of what we’re looking for.

CV: Are you going to be reviewing the photographs with them?

st: We plan to print the photographs immediately after they return the cameras, so when they come back the following week we can talk about their work. We want to discuss why a certain photograph is good and how they can improve their images. So it’s sort of a challenge for them in that sense as well.

CV: Are the families going to be involved too?

st: We’re planning to produce a documentary as well. Between the second and third week the children that have produced the best photographs are going to become part of the documentary. At that point we’re going to be interviewing their families and discussing the impact of the workshop.

CV: What’s your goal with this project?

st: To empower these children first and foremost. The proceeds from the book and the exhibition will go back directly to these children through our partner in Fortaleza. We’re hoping that these funds will have some sort of impact in their future as well. Depending on how much we’re able to raise from the books and the exhibition we want to establish a program that will focus on preventing the exploitation of children.

Would you like to learn more about 50 Children. 50 Cameras or support the project? Click here.  

If you’re interested in children and documentary photography, take a look at the Oscar-winning documentary Born into Brothels’ and the workshops run by photojournalist Donna DeCesare in Central America. We’ve compiled advice from journalists about working with children here.

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