{Here is a story I recently wrote for JPG Magazine about my time in M*ngolia teaching photography.  Click on the photo to help vote for the story!  Thanks and enjoy!} Let the Cameras Speak for Us.  Aside from a remnant of enthusiasts, the words “film is dead” hang like an epitaph over the world of photography.  At first, I argued that it will never happen.  That there will always be a need for film photography because it has “the look” that digital photography has still yet to beat, not to mention the all the intricate steps involved from taking a photo to developing a print- leaving you slightly shaken with excitement as you exit the red-lighten room to view your finished product.  Still, with our ever-increasingly fast passed world, dependent upon technology, the decision of many companies to stop producing film-based products, and the expenses involved with still using film, even a skeptic like me must face the fact that film is fading from being a professional trade to a hobby- and an expensive one at that. Nonetheless, there are still many underdeveloped countries who have yet to make this transformation.  I moved to Erdenet, Mongolia, two years ago with the vague assignment of doing youth development-related activities.  A few months into my teaching and my students became increasingly more curious about what I studied in America.  I was typically met with a gasp of excitement when I would respond, “photography”.  You see, there is not a single visual arts class available to children in public schools here, in turn sparking students to ask how they could study such a thing and if I could be the one to teach them.  My mind raced with questions:  Where can I find  the resources to teach a class when these kids don’t even own a camera?  Is this project sustainable?  Would my students take the class seriously?  How do you teach from scratch, in another language, the fundamentals of art that are embedded into your mind from preschool when we start painting-by-numbers?  After searching endlessly, I was left with one option: ask for help.  I emailed a couple of professors back home in hopes that they could lead me to someone who would be interested in donating supplies.  After a month of no response, one of my professors replied.   I remember sitting in the internet cafe, wide-eyed and clueless of what the future held.  He simply stated that he and his wife would be mailing cameras and enough film and batteries to get us started.  From there, the rest fell into place. For the last year, every Saturday afternoon, nine high-school Mongolian children and I get together for a few hours and study photography.  We began with the very basics and have moved on to doing various projects that allow them to tell about their lives and culture from a new perspective.  We studied everything from composition to color, angle of view to opposites, fashion photography to Henri Cartier-Bresson and everything in between, ending with the first and second photography exhibitions to ever happen in our village.  These students have exceeded my wildest expectations and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to watch them grow, learn, and express themselves with art for the first time.  What has emerged are numerous stories exploding with contrast, displaying what happens when tradition and modernization collide in a developing country.  You see herders on cell-phones, people in traditional clothes using computers, gers (Mongolian national homes) next to towering construction buildings, nomads watching cable television, and kids wearing a diamond-studded NY baseball hat while riding a horse.  These people are living in a time of great transformation, slightly unclear of where their country is headed or how long the blend of folklore and development can continue before one takes over.  Regardless of the outcome, my hope is that the knowledge these students have gained and the training of their artistic eye is something that will be passed on; that the love for photography will not perish but transform the way these people see the world around them.  And if in 15 years my students and I are using digital cameras or whatever other photographic technology may surface, despite what mediums phase in and out,  or what becomes of film photography, one thing is for sure:  The stories that art is meant to tell will never die when we let the cameras speak for us.

{Here is a story I recently wrote for JPG Magazine about my time in M*ngolia teaching photography.  Click on the photo to help vote for the story!  Thanks and enjoy!}

Let the Cameras Speak for Us. 

Aside from a remnant of enthusiasts, the words “film is dead” hang like an epitaph over the world of photography.  At first, I argued that it will never happen.  That there will always be a need for film photography because it has “the look” that digital photography has still yet to beat, not to mention the all the intricate steps involved from taking a photo to developing a print- leaving you slightly shaken with excitement as you exit the red-lighten room to view your finished product.  Still, with our ever-increasingly fast passed world, dependent upon technology, the decision of many companies to stop producing film-based products, and the expenses involved with still using film, even a skeptic like me must face the fact that film is fading from being a professional trade to a hobby- and an expensive one at that.

Nonetheless, there are still many underdeveloped countries who have yet to make this transformation.  I moved to Erdenet, Mongolia, two years ago with the vague assignment of doing youth development-related activities.  A few months into my teaching and my students became increasingly more curious about what I studied in America.  I was typically met with a gasp of excitement when I would respond, “photography”.  You see, there is not a single visual arts class available to children in public schools here, in turn sparking students to ask how they could study such a thing and if I could be the one to teach them.  My mind raced with questions:  Where can I find  the resources to teach a class when these kids don’t even own a camera?  Is this project sustainable?  Would my students take the class seriously?  How do you teach from scratch, in another language, the fundamentals of art that are embedded into your mind from preschool when we start painting-by-numbers? 

After searching endlessly, I was left with one option: ask for help.  I emailed a couple of professors back home in hopes that they could lead me to someone who would be interested in donating supplies.  After a month of no response, one of my professors replied.   I remember sitting in the internet cafe, wide-eyed and clueless of what the future held.  He simply stated that he and his wife would be mailing cameras and enough film and batteries to get us started.  From there, the rest fell into place.

For the last year, every Saturday afternoon, nine high-school Mongolian children and I get together for a few hours and study photography.  We began with the very basics and have moved on to doing various projects that allow them to tell about their lives and culture from a new perspective.  We studied everything from composition to color, angle of view to opposites, fashion photography to Henri Cartier-Bresson and everything in between, ending with the first and second photography exhibitions to ever happen in our village. 

These students have exceeded my wildest expectations and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to watch them grow, learn, and express themselves with art for the first time.  What has emerged are numerous stories exploding with contrast, displaying what happens when tradition and modernization collide in a developing country.  You see herders on cell-phones, people in traditional clothes using computers, gers (Mongolian national homes) next to towering construction buildings, nomads watching cable television, and kids wearing a diamond-studded NY baseball hat while riding a horse.  These people are living in a time of great transformation, slightly unclear of where their country is headed or how long the blend of folklore and development can continue before one takes over. 

Regardless of the outcome, my hope is that the knowledge these students have gained and the training of their artistic eye is something that will be passed on; that the love for photography will not perish but transform the way these people see the world around them.  And if in 15 years my students and I are using digital cameras or whatever other photographic technology may surface, despite what mediums phase in and out,  or what becomes of film photography, one thing is for sure: 

The stories that art is meant to tell will never die when we let the cameras speak for us.