It was great to be back in Jacmel to work with teens at the Art Creation Foundation for Children! There have been so many changes – the kids have improved in both language skills and photography, and the foundation has moved to a marvelous new building. By the time I got there, everything had been moved and the families of the children all pitched in to paint rooms. The kids installed mosaics on the front. Beautiful and welcoming!
There are separate rooms for a library, computers, homework review, art projects and an efficient kitchen. The eating area is bright and airy. And the entire building buzzes with activity.
Each morning I photographed various subjects needed for the new ACFFC website designed by another board member. And three afternoons I worked with the kids.
The group this year consisted of 5 girls and one boy, Fedno. I had worked with all but one last year. Everyone loved using the newer cameras sent to them by my photographer friends.
We had three specific goals: Tell a story – with establishing shot, action and close-ups. Move your images onto the computer – make a file, name it in a consistent manner ( name, date, what it is) and put the photographs into the file. Edit. Chose the best 3 photographs. Don’t include several that are similar.
The group of 6 divided into three pairs and took 30 minutes to shoot an activity: chosen were food preparation, homework review and a local business.
The challenges began when we looked at the images. The photographs were uniformly good. But only two of the kids had any idea of how to create a folder or how to name it. I had not realized that there are NO computers used in their schools. Fortunately, five laptops had just arrived and computer work areas have been built into the new computer room. (Computer classes will begin in a couple of weeks.) Meanwhile, four of the kids had never typed, did not know how to capitalize a letter, make an underscore, or where the letters are on the keyboard. That you can use two hands. We spent the next two afternoons practicing these skills, with those who knew how teaching those who did not.
We then chose the best 3 photographs for each person and discussed editing and organizing. A more cerebral exercise than last year, when we used cool new backgrounds to photograph artwork, but of tremendous value in the long run.
On the last day, a Saturday, the whole group had to work on a wonderful long mosaic wall commissioned by the city of Jacmel, so I photographed the work and then worked along with the kids – great fun!!
There is a special wall in Jacmel, Haiti. It was built by the children from the Art Creation Foundation for Children.
Shortly after the 2010 earthquake, Laurel True contacted Judy Hoffman with the wish to create a mosaic art project with the children of the Art Creation Foundation for Children that would be a lasting memorial to those lost and also a celebration of what the future could be. Laurel, a well-known mosaic artist, suggested a wall installation. Permission was obtained from the then-Mayor and now Senator Edo Zenny to cover a section of a cement wall facing the ocean. Laurel raised funds through Kickstarter, and with Erin Rogers working as her assistant, brought bags of mosaic tile to Jacmel and taught the kids what to do. The designs were created as a collaborative effort by the children.
The initial design was a Tree of Life.
All were amazed at how quickly they absorbed the techniques and put them into action.
Within days the tiles were cemented in place and grouted.
Shells were interspersed with the tiles so that people could insert messages and candle
Here is Judy’s photo of the inaugural memorial ceremony.
The Tree of Life was followed by La Sirene on a section of the wall directly facing the sea.
After Laurel departed, many more tiles were donated and the children continued creating wonderful images.
And musical instruments.
A cement bench was covered with tiles and instantly became a gathering place.
This summer work has begun on the unfinished section facing the ocean
The entire town celebrates this work and the wall has become a place of great pride. I love its fanciful nature – childlike, beautifully executed.
He became part of Art Creation Foundation for Children in 2005 at the age of 11 having begun, but not having completed first grade. He was born in a rural area in a situation of abject poverty. At 10 he was sent to an aunt who agreed to take him in so that he could attend school, but then could not pay the fees for him to complete first grade. In Haiti, it is rare for a child to be permitted to advance if a grade is not completed, but Fedno’s intelligence and desire to learn convinced the headmaster to let him enter second grade, rather than repeat first grade. This was his first victory and he has been an excellent student ever since.
As with many of the children who have entered the foundation’s art and educational programs, if you had asked him at age 10 what he wanted to be when he grew up, you would have gotten a blank stare. The goal was to get through the day.
Fedno was the first teen I met when I got to Jacmel. He helped me set up the equipment I brought and to test its suitability for photographing artwork using natural light on the upstairs balcony.
Imagine my joy as a photographer/teacher when he was actually thrilled to understand what you can learn from a histogram on the display of a digital camera! (Fedno uses a more sophisticated camera than the other kids, donated by a photographer who works with the group on documentary projects and understands his capabilities.)
When the rest of the group arrived from school, Fedno proved his leadership abilities in assisting me in demonstrating the techniques for shooting artwork.
The following morning we worked together on understanding aperture and shutter speed, and how these settings give you control over your final image. He was like a sponge and took careful notes.
When we moved to the computer on the final day, Fedno quickly learned what was necessary to transfer the images to each teen’s photo file and was instrumental in the discussion and critique of the images and how they might be improved. Since I didn’t have consistent translation help that day, I was very, very appreciative!
Then we all went out for a farewell party.
The next morning, Fedno presented me with a beautiful small painting he created as a thank you. It is signed on the reverse, “Fedno, Journalist.” His goals for the future are clear.
While I conducted the photography workshop with teenagers (see Posts 1 & 2) at Art Creation Foundation for Children in Jacmel, Haiti, I photographed the paintings of several of the young artists who have blossomed in the art program over the years.
The work of 19-year-old Bruno Rene really stood out. Bruno came to the foundation in 2007. He had intermittently attended school and had never even considered creating art of any sort. He was immediately enrolled in school and has now completed the equivalent of what would be ninth grade in the US. In time, it became apparent that he was a very serious and gifted painter. His only instruction in painting has come from training at the foundation by members of a group of Jacmel artists called Fosaj and occasional visiting artists, but he has worked very intently on improving his skills. He is very, very serious about his work.
In 2011, The New Orleans Jazz Festival had a special Haitian Art Exhibit and commissioned ACCFC to provide 3 paintings. The kids in the foundation voted for Bruno to enter, rather than sending a collaborative effort. For this entry, the foundation received a $300 award. About 25% went to the foundation’s food fund and the rest was awarded to Bruno. His allocation of this small sum shows the type of person he is. The largest share went to the sister he lives with, who also takes care of a number of young children. He asked the foundation to hold a portion as a savings account for him, a few dollars bought him a new shirt, and he gave another small sum to someone poorer than he who needed it for food.
As I prepared for the photography workshop and assembled the equipment I brought with me, my friend Monica worked with Bruno to be sure that the descriptive information about each of his paintings was correct. You can see the stockpile of paper mache objects created by the children in the background.
Then, using a background of a white shower curtain taped to a cement wall on a shaded balcony, I photographed Bruno’s work.
“La Belle Creole”:
“La Sou France”:
“L’Union des Drapeau”
One of the goals of the foundation, when created by Judy Hoffman in 2000, was to instill a sense of community in the children. Life in Haiti can be so difficult, and the scramble for food and housing so incessant, that there is no room to develop a sense of responsibility for others. Bruno’s trajectory from street kid to responsible young adult is the ideal outcome of participation in the programs of the Art Creation Foundation for Children. And he is a delight to work with.
Bruno Rene with “Scene de la Vie: Est un Song”
I worked with the children at Art Creation Foundation for Children in Jacmel for three days.
On day one I began by setting up the equipment with Fedno, who has some experience with a camera and did not have a full day of school. I brought with me: a portable white cloth tent called a PortaCube from Calumet that I could use with natural light, a white shower curtain, a large roll of black gaffers tape and an inexpensive tripod. I decided that lights would be impossible to sustain. The electricity in Jacmel is iffy. Teenagers break things and bulbs, etc. are not easy to find. And the sun is really, really bright in Haiti.
A real stroke of luck was the presence of Yves, a doctoral student from Haiti, raised in Brooklyn from age 8, who was accompanying his girlfriend Jenny to the foundation. Jenny was working with the younger kids on a protrait project and Yves was free to translate for me. The language spoken in Haiti is Creole, a mixture of French and African languages, and I couldn’t understand a word.
Fedno was very quick to catch on to the use of the equipment. It had been suggested that the upstairs balcony would be a good place to work. It is in shade most of the day and has terrific light, so Fedno and I taped the shower curtain to the wall for use in shooting paintings and opened the tent and placed it on two chairs pushed together. We were in business. While we waited for the other kids to arrive from school, I photographed the paintings of three artists trained at the foundation who are about to graduate from high school so that they would have a record of their work.
When the kids arrived and had had lunch (during the school year a substantial lunch is served to all – during vacations, there are 3 meals a day) I demonstrated how to open the tent and use the tripod. The foundation already has a supply of basic digital point and shoot cameras.
The tent was used to photograph paper mache objects, small mosaic pieces and small paintings on canvas board. It worked beautifully; the light was diffused and the point and shoot cameras worked.
On the second day I spent the morning teaching Fedno some more advanced aspects of photography. He had wondered about the histogram on his more advanced camera and was elated to learn what it signified. We also worked on control of aperture and speed. It was gratifying to see how quickly he absorbed these principles of photography.
When the rest of the group arrived, we spent hours on the balcony practicing what they had learned the day before. First they took photographs of each other so that each person’s memory card began with an image defining whose camera it was.
On the third day, we looked at the work on a notebook computer. Everyone was thrilled to see his/her work on the screen. We made a file for each person and transferred the images into the files for storage. Again, I was glad to step back and watch them help each other work with the computer.Then, along with Monica, who had helped with the initial computer set-up (I am not well versed in the mysteries of PCs, being an Apple user), we went to a favorite local spot for soda and juice!
I have just returned from a wonderful week teaching a group of Haitian teenagers in Jacmel how to photograph their artwork.
Art Creation Foundation for Children was founded by my childhood friend Judy Hoffman in 2000 as a way to help street children in the town of Jacmel to get an education and learn crafts by which they could earn a living. Little did she know what she was getting herself into. Before the 2010 earthquake, the project included 60 children and a small staff. The foundation now takes care of 100 children and their families. A few of the children are orphaned; most have some family, but none had attended school or eaten on a regular basis prior to joining ACFFC. The foundation provides a safe place to be after school, a place to do homework and to learn about and create artwork. During the school year, the children’s school fees are paid and they are provided with uniforms, shoes, backpacks, books and a substantial lunch after school. During vacations, they are served three meals a day. A major goal is for each child to be able to be self-supporting and to have a real sense of community as he or she becomes an adult.
I arrived in Jacmel with my friend Monica to learn more first-hand about the foundation and to hold a workshop for some of the older children on how to photograph their artwork – mainly objects of papier mache and paintings. It was a wonderful week and we all learned a great deal.
We somehow negotiated our way out of the totally chaotic airport Port au Prince and crossed over the mountains south to Jacmel. Fairly hair-raising, although our driver, Juice, was really skilled at passing every person or vehicle in front of us, using an intricate combination of honks that seemed to be a common language understood by all, whether on foot or in some kind of vehicle. We were glad to arrive in Jacmel.
There we were met at the door to the courtyard by Georges Metallus, the Executive Director in Haiti.
I will continue my story in the coming days and weeks, so that I can share my impressions of the children, their accomplishments and the work the foundation is involved in with you all.
Easter is a week away and a crowd of bunnies is waiting to celebrate on Madison Avenue.
Even the wanna-bes are endearing…..
I hope someone adopts these too….
If you come to New York, try to find this window. If you have a child with you, you will have to take one home!