Teaching documentary photography to the youth of Kliptown, South Africa

The Kliptown Photo Project is dedicated to creating opportunities for the high school students of Kliptown, South Africa, one of the oldest informal settlements in Soweto, where residents live with up to four generations of their families in one or two room shacks without electricity, running water or public services.

In July 2014 we went to Kliptown and worked with one American photographer and three young African photographers to run a week long photo workshop for 15 students. We believe that learning photography is a way to foster creativity and connection. We wanted our students to show us the world through their eyes and gain skills, confidence, and agency through the process.

We provided digital cameras for each student and worked with them in the classroom, the community, and the computer lab, teaching them everything from lighting and composition to how to photograph strangers and upload their photos to facebook. The students were hard working, enthused, and hungry for knowledge; it was an exciting and powerful week for all participants.

An exhibition of the photographs taken by the students and their teachers took place a month after the workshop at Mashumi Art Projects in Soweto and was a great critical success. The students were able to see their work in the gallery, which was an empowering and thrilling experience for them. Photos are also available for sale on this website.  Proceeds from the exhibition and sale of photographs will go to the Kliptown Youth Program to further their educational and arts programs in the community.

Browse through our store -- you can purchase photos taken by our students and instructors to help sustain the project or you can simply make a donation to sustain the project. 

Ulwimi ululodwa alonelanga, which is a Zulu phrase meaning, "One language is never enough."

Building a Curriculum, Part 1

So we had the basic idea, and we had some parts in order, next up was to think about the nuts and bolts of how we wanted to approach teaching documentary photography. The most obvious question was -- other than Heather, just who would be teaching the kids?

Enter three dynamic, up and coming photographers, all based in Soweto.

The first is Jerry Obakeng Gaegane, the recipient of the Edward Ruiz Mentorship award for 2012/2013. Jerry recently exhibited a series of photographs on illegal mining in the Johannesburg area. See Mail & Guardian story. Though our kids will be learning the basics of photography, just handling the cameras and uploading photos on the computers at the Youth Program, Jerry is going to teach the kids how to shoot interiors. As you can see from Jerry's photo below, it is a task to which is well suited. (I have to admit, it is one of my favorites. I believe that outside of this project, I may have to purchase a print from Jerry when I'm in SA this summer.)

Next up, we contacted Tila Nomvula Mathizerd, who we specifically wanted to address teaching framing social issues. And Patrick Selemani, our portrait expert.

And thus, a teaching staff is born. 

Each student will work with each of our photographers. You never know who might take to shooting portraits or who will have an instinct for lighting. Which kid might have a knack for capturing a social issue, and which is a whiz with action shots.

By working with four amazing photographers, we hope to have all of our bases covered.