Why Photographic Literacy Matters | atmosphere

Why Photographic Literacy Matters | atmosphere

Photography by Ordinance Dione, Cameroon

Photography can be a powerful agent of change, especially in a time of massive inaction. That’s what drives Lens on Life, a non-profit organization offering photography training by the likes of Philip-Daniel Ducasse to at-risk youth as they prepare to hold their third photo auction.

Philip-Daniel Ducasse is a photographer who will be remembered. He shot for The Wall Street Journal, Magazine T, vogue, Document— and, more recently, a cover for atmosphere Volume 06: Beyond. His work has taken him to Cuba, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, photographing stories about communities and their respective cultural practices. However, Ducasse did not always think that photography was on the program for him.

“I was raised in Haiti and resources were limited when I grew up there,” he said. atmosphere. “It means that today I really identify with children who don’t have opportunities and generally don’t see themselves represented.”

It’s an archaic industry standard that Ducasse continually strives to challenge. After all, equipment is expensive, as is school, and creative jobs always tend to go to those with industry ties. So when Ducasse first met Sam and Jack Powers, founders of the nonprofit Lens on Life, which provides photography and computer literacy to at-risk youth around the world, he didn’t It took little conviction to involve him in the project. In fact, just four weeks later, Ducasse was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on his first assignment: teaching young schoolchildren about cameras, lighting and composition.

Photograph of Basel Qassem, Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan
Photograph of Sedra Ahmad Al Zoubi, Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

Photograph by Philip-Daniel Ducasse, Democratic Republic of the Congo

“It was my first time teaching – I was actually quite nervous,” Ducasse said. “But these students were so warm and welcoming. They were like sponges, enthusiastic and ready to listen to anything I had to say. It meant that I really wanted to lead by example and be an inspiration so that they know they can do it too.

Now, photographs captured by Ducasse students will be displayed at Benrubi Gallery in New York City in an exhibition that celebrates the work produced by young people across Lens on Life’s multiple programs in Brooklyn, Cameroon and Iraq, among others. The images are as much an exploration of local cultures through recurring themes like food, art and music, as depictions of the daily reality faced by young people in areas most affected by conflict and disaster. natural.

“It’s important to us not to delve into the technical details, but rather to allow students to have fun, express themselves and be confident in their view of the world.”

Jack Powers
co-founder, lens on life

“The idea behind Lens on Life was to provide photography training to allow students who had been through extreme trauma, war, violence, extreme poverty, to have an outlet to express themselves,” said Lens on Life’s Sam Powers.

Since its inception in 2016, Lens on Life has grown into a global organization with teaching programs based on multiple continents, but its roots were remarkably local. It was inspired by Sam and Jack Powers’ late mother, Bonni Benrubi, who, after founding the Benrubi Gallery, began bringing young people from Brooklyn – many of whom had never been to a museum before – into the space to learn more about the world of art. Benrubi’s mission to democratize access to art has motivated his sons to continue building on his legacy.

Photograph by Philip-Daniel Ducasse, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photograph by Philip-Daniel Ducasse, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Photography by Elaf Yousif, Iraq

Lens on Life is driven by a devotion to the power of storytelling; the instrumental role that photography plays in helping us better understand and care for our planet and its inhabitants. Photography promotes empathy and acceptance; it engenders community and compassion. It helps us connect with those we haven’t met yet and may never meet. This is a crucial driver of change at a time of massive inaction.

This is why photographic culture is important. And that’s why the representation behind the camera is also important. It is only by redistributing expertise and equipment to those on the frontlines of climate change that these stories can be authentically captured and told.

“What was produced during Phil’s workshop showed the city of Goma [in the eastern DRC] in its mundane activities: in its markets, in its smells, in its dynamism and also in its poverty and in its problems,” said Jack Powers. “But it was nothing like what you normally see in the Congolese foreign affairs zeitgeist or your average BBC or AFP correspondent reporting on Goma where you see AK-47s and abandoned cars. That’s why it’s important for us not to go into technical details, but rather to allow students to have fun, express themselves and be confident in their way of seeing the world.

Photograph by Mpabanzi Jean de Dieu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photograph by Mpabanzi Jean de Dieu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ducasse, whose personal work so often seeks to empower communities that have historically been underrepresented by mainstream media, is determined to continue supporting the cause: “We are able to raise a good amount of money with these exhibitions. It comes back directly to the students and makes a difference in everyone’s life. This is particularly the case now that Lens on Life is preparing to develop the programs offered; they are building photography schools in Goma and Iraq, the latter in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as an apprenticeship program and photography lab in Cameroon. Each additional program is a victory for global photographic literacy.

“Students use the skills and tools provided to expose rooted and contemporary issues within their communities,” said Sam Powers. “Some students capture photos that reveal the growing risk posed by climate change in their local communities, such as extreme weather conditions. The purpose of exposing [their] The job is to show some of the direct effects of climate change in Africa and the Middle East to our American audience.

Photograph by Philip-Daniel Ducasse, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photograph by Philip-Daniel Ducasse, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Photograph by Nawzad Ased, Iraq

The third Lens on Life photo exhibition and auction will take place on June 23 at the Benrubi Gallery in New York. All student photos will be available for auction and 100% of proceeds will directly support Lens on Life’s essential work, including the purchase of new equipment and the payment of teacher salaries and student internship grants.


Michael E. Marquez