2014. After a somewhat frustrating morning photographically, Julian was driving along a dusty dirt road, high in the hills above the town of Kabale in the Southwest of the country, when he stopped the vehicle and listened to dozens of little voices singing their hearts out.
It was a picture-perfect scene. Running over to greet Julian was teacher and school director Ronald. He encouraged him to stop and listen to the national anthem. That was the moment, a life changing encounter.
What followed was an amazing afternoon in the company of Ronald and the children of Eden Preparatory school. The school had been in existence only months, with Ronald Twongyeirwe teaching children from small outbuildings, using outdated materials.
Promising to return, Julian knew he would be back sometime in the future. Nine months later, he was back at the school, sleeping in a spare room, bearing 25 film cameras, 50 rolls of film and a plan to give each child a camera and teach them photography.
Project V1 January/February 2015
The rudimentary brick building, which contained half a dozen benches and a scruffy blackboard, was the base for a few weeks as Julian prepared himself to teach the basics of photography to 25 eager children.
It wasn’t easy selecting the children to take part. In fact, with the capacity of the school now at around 2.5 times what was expected, it was clear there weren’t enough materials to go round. The easiest way (though not ideal) to deal with this issue, was, after a few lessons, to test the children on their learning so far.
25 excited children were chosen and over the coming days and weeks, Julian introduced them to photography.
The children were set objectives and on regular intervals (usually at weekends or evenings) Julian would hike through the mountains to their homes, often becoming the first westerner to visit some of these remote properties.
It was a humbling experience for the photographer.
After a few weeks the children arrived back to school, amazingly all 25 cameras returned, in immaculate condition. The films were taken to the processing labs and what happened next was truly incredible. The stories of each child came to life in pictures.
The images were not only inspiring, but they truly provided a real life look at rural life in Uganda. A chance for the viewer to see what a child sees of their home and community. A chance to glimpse at real life.
While working on the project and thanks to additional funding, Julian replaced dozens of wooden benches, employing local carpenters to make them especially for the school.
Dozens of new teaching aids and expensive government issued curriculum books were purchased to replace the old and tatty versions.
Sustainable measures were introduced, including the addition of a huge chicken pen, kitted out with over 10 chickens. A school garden was introduced, to begin a ‘grow your own’ culture and finally a new mains water supply was put in, along with several months of bills prepaid, so the school could move forwards in a sustainable and managed way.
Project V2 2016
Following on from the post project exhibition, tremendous feedback and more importantly some very moving letters from the children in Uganda, Julian decided to continue the project, developing fresh approaches to the work.
Returning to Eden school, over 12 months later, 23 out of the 25 children were present, they had arrived at school, cameras in hand, a deeper understanding of photography (thanks to the previous paperwork/teaching material left behind)and films ready to be developed.
Over the previous 12 months, a small fund had been setup to enable films to be processed and notes/guidance had been put in place, so the teachers could continue some form of lessons on photography.
This had clearly worked. The children were competent not only in the camera usage, but in the ability to shoot some quite incredible pictures.
A new group of around 25 students had been supplied with equipment, and along with the students from V1. The groups were sent out with their equipment. They had to meet several objectives, which was all part of the development of their skillset and learning experience. After a few days, cameras returned, films developed and what followed was an assortment of some of the finest photographs depicting life in rural Africa that one could hope to see.
Excelling themselves in every area, the new and experienced photographic students captured a quality and insight into rural life that has rarely been seen.
Setting up a ‘photo room’ in one of the new buildings that had been built, the whole community was invited to be part of the exhibition. A chance for the community to understand the project and to see what a young person from their area could achieve if given the chance.
As with V1, V2 also had some spare project funds, which, it was decided would be invested in the sanitary conditions. Building a new toilet block with washing facilities.
The sustainable measures introduced in 2015 continued to grow (excuse the pun!) with further investment in seeds and gardening equipment, along with further chickens.
With the addition of a battery powered keyboard that was requested and subsequently supplied, came the finance of a music teacher for over 9 months. A crucial element to the ever popular keyboard playing and music ‘department’ of the school.
Project V3 2018
Partnering with Katuna MARPS – a Ugandan based NGO.
This project was based in the border town of Katuna, in Southwest Uganda. A border which is shared with Rwanda.
For around 3 weeks Julian was based in the busy border town working with a group of young vulnerable children whose mothers are all known to the NGO who Julian partnered with, through their profession and/or their HIV status.
That first few mornings were really slow burners.
The majority of these children come from tough urban backgrounds.
A considered and timely response was required. The sessions would turn out to be fun, interesting and at times tense, with the children talking about their experiences, family life, as well as hopes and dreams for the future.
The first few sessions of any project are mainly designed as a chance for the photography teacher to get to know the children, build a relationship and develop together. Sharing stories, experiences and showing photographs.
During the first few days, the sessions were punctured with stops for tea, bread and snacks.
Eventually the time came to discuss in more detail photography, producing the 15 cameras, the children’s faces inevitably lit up at the prospect of using film and digital cameras.
Talking through the basics of photography and getting the kids to understand the principles of making images takes only a short time. The most important part of the projects is that the kids have fun, while still retaining a small amount of information about the facts.
Films loaded; the children were taken on a day out to a local waterfall. A chance for a change of scenery (most, if not all the children had never left their home area!) and more importantly a fun day out with lunch provided. A chance to use the cameras properly for the first time.
Over the coming days Julian met up with the children regularly, techniques were fine-tuned as well as looking at print photographic results that had returned from the labs.
The following week the children were taken on a photo walk, holding the cameras proudly (no mean feat in a border town!) and proceeded to photograph life around them – telling a story of their town.
It’s always interesting to watch the group flourish, they had their own ideas, inspirations and interpretations and began to experiment. Naturally, being a border town, there were few run-ins with drunk/drugged or abusive locals… some clearly didn’t appreciate the photography of their home town.
After further workshops and one on one sessions, the group came together – cameras all intact and with beaming smiles. Films removed and off to Kampala on the overnight bus to get the films and digital cards developed.
That Moment…the moment of opening the packet and finding glorious images – a view of African life coming to prominence, through the child’s eyes.
Hours, if not days, were spent sorting through the images. In between visiting families, visiting other health centres and learning about the work of MARPS and their dedicated staff.
he children are always encouraged to make their own judgements and final selection of images they would like enlarged and exhibited. Group discussions take place and it is always interesting to watch the interactions between the group, as packs of photos get passed around the tables, giggles ring around the room, youngsters pointing, shouting, smiling. It’s a rather special moment.
The final exhibition was organised at the border head office of MARPS.
The photographers and their mothers/carers were invited, as is customary. The spread included tea, bananas, bread and milk.
The standard of photography was again particularly high. It genuinely seems to improve as the project develops. There are a few images which certainly stand out and are of a particularly high standard.
As well as leaving behind some of the equipment (with funding to enable development of images), the project also handed out some awards to the photographer who captured the best photograph, people’s choice and most improved photographer.
Project 3 has been the most rewarding project to date, without doubt. Each project has provided interesting and intense moments, however the standard of imagery is really quite moving. It truly depicts the story of the children.
V4 November 2019
Photography just keeps getting better… And the Photo Room (first created 4 years ago!) is still there, bigger and better than ever!
Returning to Uganda for V4 of the project, Julian was working with a total of five previous photographers, four based in the rural hills, at the school of Eden Preparatory and one based in the town of Kabale, which Katuna MARPs helped facilitate.
Arriving at the new MARPs offices in the town of Kabale (they have had to relocate due to the ongoing tensions at the border with Rwanda/Uganda at Katuna) Julian was greeted by a lovely mini exhibition from last year’s photographers.
The V3 photographers were welcomed at the offices with a special gift of 50,000 shillings,
Much like all the funding for this project, this money had been donated, however this was for the specific purpose of directly rewarding each child for their images in the exhibition at the Playhouse in 2018.
Obviously, it was encouraged to the parent of the children, that the funds were spent towards their education, at least where possible.
After working with the group for a day, a show and tell session was developed, showing images from the exhibition and the reaction of people in the UK to their great work.
This project also had the use of Lomography instant cameras, this was particularly rewarding, watching the reactions and amazement of an ‘instant picture’.
The quality of instant pictures, isn’t particularly high, but in an age of screen based technology the lack of tangible prints is all too evident in much of what we do and it was decided using instant cameras would allow the children to realise their visions and allow them to use a form of technology which they had not seen or used before. Add to the fact, that once that first instant picture was ejected from the camera, their level of amazement was quite incredible to witness.
The children were set the objective of taking photographs of themselves and also to shoot a portrait of each of their fellow photographers.
There was one particular student who Julian felt could benefit from further teaching. Her name was Violah and since the last workshop she has been doing very little, unable to afford further education.
Her mother is Evas, one of the women that was photographed last year as part of Julian’s ‘Perception of HIV’ mini photo-story.
Post Covid Workshop
After over two years of horrendous lockdowns, and impact on life and society, going back to Uganda, after such a difficult time, felt like a real privilege. Like most African nations, Uganda and in particular the citizens had been hit hard by the restrictions of Covid. No support, schools shut and limited medical availability, especially in rural areas had impacted life and learning greatly.