Interviews, Photography

Picturing Wanteete – photography for social good

Photographer Louise Contino embarks on a four-month trip to teach African villagers to tell their stories via photography.

Everyday, thousands of carefree snaps are uploaded onto social networking sites, hoping for casual clicks on a ‘like’ button from a collective audience of some sort. But how much social impact do these images truly have for its intended community? The latest technology has popularised photography to such an extent that, much of the time, we seem to take the ease of image-making and its results for granted.

Meanwhile, in a small remote village called Wanteete in central Uganda in Africa, villagers await their first lesson with a film camera. How does it work? What can we do with it? How do we get the pictures out of this thing?

Answering these questions (and many more) is Louise Contino, a New York-based photographer who will spend four months teaching the villagers the basics of photography. Louise is embarking on a life-changing trip (both for herself and for the villagers) from February to June 2014, to help the poverty-stricken community to tell their story via the medium of photography.

Just before her trip, Louise is buoyed with enthusiasm: “I am excited and I know it’s gonna be hard, but I also know it’s going to be really beautiful and that’s my intention with the trip – it’s to create work that’s very positive and uplifting and connects us to a community… to just see their own humanity and to feel a brotherhood, or a connection of sorts with my subjects. Rather than to feel pity and despair and sadness about the struggles that they certainly do have, I wanna tell a positive story. And I wanna create a positive experience for myself and the people that I am working with.”

Her project involves several aspects while on location:

  • Documentary photography to tell the success story of the Wanteete village and its school. The local school was initially built with help from a micro grant and local community effort, followed by further funding. It started in 2010 with approximately 75 pupils and no walls on the building. Today, it is in full operation, educating 350 local children and serving school meals.
  • Establish a photo collective in the village and teach a class of about 15 students of mix ages the principles of photography, how to use film cameras, film processing and printing.
  • Empower villagers to tell their own stories, as seen through their own eyes. This will be achieved with audio interviews and by giving them their own cameras and films to record their world. Sponsored by the Film Photography Project to help make this happen, Louise will bring with her 15 film cameras with full manual control and 150 rolls of films.

There will be many challenges along the way. From getting over how to teach the technical aspects of photography through a translator, to the logistics of film processing at a location with no water and electricity. One of the biggest challenges Louise foresees for her self-funded adventure is running out of money before her four-month trip is complete. To address the shortfall, she has started a fund-raising campaign on the Kick Starter website to crowd-source US$3,500 to help make ends meet.

Supporting other aspects of Louise’s project are two not-for-profit organisations – Spark Microgrants (a non governmental organisation based in New York, USA) and BESO (a community-based organisation in Uganda). The mission of Spark Microgrants, which funds social projects to help improve communities (including the school in Wanteete), inspired Louise to get involve in the first place: “I realised the best way that I can help this organisation was through photography. Because we can’t really expect organisations to grow, if they don’t tell their stories. The story needs to be known and that’s where I come in… my goals as a photographer are just to create a really compelling and strong narrative of images that are going to force people to ask critical questions.”

After her return from Uganda, she will use these images and the stories she has collected to create an exhibition in New York in autumn 2014. A fund-raising charity auction of her photographs and a narrative photo book are also in the plans.

Do you believe in the social impact of photography?

This article was first published on the Film Photography Project website.


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