"You're talking about power, the power to tell your own story; and if you're not used to that power [to tell your own stories] you just give it away." -- Neelika Jayawardane
We were lucky enough to go to a lecture about the sprawling photography exhibit 'The Rise and Fall of Apartheid' at Museum Africa here in Jo'Burg last night. It was really a conversation between David Goldblatt and Neelika Jayawardane and I think I'm paraphrasing a comment she made about the power of story-telling and the power to tell those stories.
There was a spirited (but respectful) dialogue at the talk, as the attendees were encouraged to comment and ask questions, much of which revolved around who was telling the story through this particular exhibition, who had the right to tell those stories and so forth.
It made me reflect more on the idea that we are all story-tellers, each of us who is here working on this project, whether through teaching, or writing or photography. Julie tells stories when she is teaching the history of photography; Heather tells stories with her camera; I tell stories with words. But when I'm telling those stories, and when Julie is telling those stories, and when Heather is telling those stories, we are mediating between the story and the reader or the viewer of the story. Whose stories are we telling? Why? How much do we enter into those stories as the story-tellers?
We're here to teach a handful of kids at the Kliptown Youth Program some basics of photograpy and, up to this point, Linda and I have been consumed with all of the practical and administrative details of such a venture. There are the very practical considerations: buying the cameras (and related tech equipment necessary), making sure we can load the photographs on-line, having a space to do a small amount of classroom work, feeding the kids, etc. Then, of course, were the considerations of teaching the kids the very basics of photography and just letting each of our students get out in the field with one of our photographers, Heather, Jerry, Patrick and Tila.
Now that we're here in South Africa, and having spent a few days at kicking around Kliptown and getting to know the staff of the KYP, we can start thinking about the loftier ambitions more. Although we've only been here few days, so many of our experiences have just reinforced the basic premise of this Project, which is to give that power, the power of story-telling through photography, to a handful of high school students in Kliptown. I've no idea what kinds of stories the kids will want to tell and that makes this project all the more exciting.
As Jayawardane so eloquently said, we don't want them to give that power over to anybody else. What we want is for them to own that power, the power of their stories, and to provide them with a means and platform to share those stories.
Below is Heather Mull's photo of Neelika Jayawardane and David Goldblatt at Museum Africa.