On Thursday, April 21st the Community Service Committee of Professional Women Photographers held a mentoring fieldtrip for children from Women In Need. Founded twenty-seven years ago, WIN operates six shelters in New York City, housing more than 2,500 people each night. It is committed to helping women restart their lives, and to helping their children grow though educational opportunities.
CSC volunteers Andy Mars, Karen Smul, Joan Katz, Joann Frechette and Giselle Chamma met at the WIN Manhattan shelter with nine children who were participating. The plan was for a quick photography lesson, then a quick walk to Central Park. But the day was so bright and beautiful, that cameras were handed out immediately and a slow, unwieldy procession made its way through the streets. Nobody could wait to get to a scenic beauty spot because suddenly everything around them was fascinating and beautiful.
“When you give kids ideas of what to photograph they will surprise you with their creativity,” said Andy Mars. ”A perfect example was when I told them to see different perspectives, not just shooting straight on, but from below looking up or above looking…down.”
Mars also suggested that the students get “really close to a subject and see the detailed textures.”
When the group finally hit Central Park, dogs were a popular subject.
Finally the group returned from the grass and flowers and sunshine to the shelter to download and review the photographs. But the problems of the real world were never far away. Karen Smul recalled that “one of the girls told Joann and me that we were lucky. When I asked her why…she said ‘because you get to take pictures all day and I bet you live in a big house.’ It reminded me how decent housing is very much at the forefront of these kids’ minds, even as they are having a wonderful time with us.”
To expand its mentoring program, the CSC has created a wish list:
- Point & Shoot Cameras
- Memory cards
- Photo paper
- Gift coupon at B&H or Adorama (for printer ink & paper
to print students’ photographs)
If you have updated your photo equipment and have older point & shoot cameras you wish to donate, please contact the Community Service Committee. Any and all donations are welcome! And the CSC gratefully acknowledges those who have already donated to its mentoring program.
- Catherine Kirkpatrick, Archives Director
PWP’S MENTORING PROGRAM: Women In Need
IMPRINTS |FALL/WINTER 2010
By Catherine Kirkpatrick
The numbers are staggering. Each night in New York City, 35,000 people sleep in shelters. We‘ve all seen them slumped over steam vents, scrounging in the trash for bottles and cans. But if you think you know what the average homeless person looks like, you’re probably wrong. Almost half of the homeless are children and eighty percent are families. As the economy worsens, their numbers are rising.
But one organization is making a difference – Women In Need (WIN). Founded twenty-seven years ago in a church, WIN now operates six shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, caring each night for over 2,500 people, more than 1,800 of them children. But WIN is more than a shelter. By offering childcare, job training, housing assistance and counseling, it gives women the chance to change their lives. Through summer camp and high-quality learning programs, it helps homeless children thrive.
When PWP’s Community Service Committee chose WIN as its 2009-2010 organization to help with photography, it found a willing and creative partner. On April 1st, 2010, CSC members Andy Mars, Karen Smul, Sheila Smith and myself went to WIN’s East Harlem shelter to meet with the six children who would be participating: three girls, eight to twelve years old, and three boys, nine to twelve.* All were from fragile families; none had ever done photography.
According to WIN Volunteer Coordinator, Alyssa Montoya, the children “were hesitant at first,€ unsure if they would enjoy a “workshop.€
Things started slowly as Karen Smul gave a basic lesson in photography. She had everyone cut out a frame from a piece of paper and look through it as she spoke about isolating things through the lens, and becoming aware of background and movement in the frame. She took out a folding reflector for a quick lesson on light. The children were polite, but reserved. The energy level rose when Sheila Smith opened her portfolio book on dogs.
It exploded when cameras were put into their hands. The minute we stepped outside they took pictures of everything–the entrance to the shelter, iron railings along the street, shadows falling over steps, each other-nothing was off limits! Shyness disappeared. Strangers were asked to pose: a father with a newborn, a deliveryman on a bike, paparazzi staking out a film set.
The smallest girl was transfixed by a florist’s shop, and in the best tradition of street photography, she and her sister pointed their cam- eras into a parking bay, then down onto the train tracks coming out of the Park Avenue tunnel. In a gritty neighborhood, they found beauty and grace.
Though Community Service Committee members provided point-and-shoot cameras, there weren’t enough to go around. Karen Smul noticed “without any prompting from the adults, they devised a system of sharing, taking a certain number of shots before passing the camera on to the next child. No one was possessive.€ Inspired by their maturity, she handed over her own Nikon D300 to a boy who had been especially quiet in the shelter. “I thought maybe he didn’t understand… or was bored,€ but “he told me he was focusing on what to photograph. What a great experience!€
In Central Park where there were more flowers for the smallest photographer, leaping Frisbee-chasing dogs for everyone, and the “sleeping cowboy,€ a portly man in a ten-gallon hat, napping on a bench – one of the many friends, human and canine, we made along the way.
Back at the shelter, we downloaded the pictures in the computer room and reviewed everyone’s work. It was good. Not just a good start, but clear, imaginative and bold. The children had seen without preconceptions, taken chances, and found beauty and interest in unexpected places.
The PWP mentoring effort was more than a few hours of fun. In an age when many jobs require knowledge of digital imaging, it gave these imaginative young people a solid introduction and foundation on which they can build.
There was also bliss. Though we never left the neighborhood, the ground covered that day was enormous. The children saw the world through new eyes, and through them, we did too.
* WIN asked that their names not be used