The easiest way to break up my reflections of the Seeing Summer project is by the two weeks. My previous post covered week 1 with the Afghan photographers and this one will explore week 2 with the South Sudanese group.
The second week of the workshops was rich in experiences and rewarding in its own right. The second group of photographers from the South Sudanese community were generally younger in age and had all lived in Australia for a decade at least. It is fair to say their experiences of life in Australia were quite different to those of the Afghan photographers however in many ways they also spoke of similar challenges regarding identity, racism and find a place in Australia society.
This week was very special for me and it was a privilege to work alongside a number of the participants I have known since they first arrived in Australia as young children. Two girls in particular, Ajak and Achingol, I have known since they were both 5 & 7 respectively and they both produced wonderful photo stories. In addition to their prowess as image makers it was a total reward to see these two confident, articulate and ambitious young women considering what might lay ahead for them in adult life.
During the workshops in both weeks but was more prevalent with the South Sudanese photographers was the infatuation with ‘selfies’ or self-portraits. Convincing or reminding, depending on how you look at it, the photographers to turn their cameras outwards was something that came up regularly. I realised that the best approach is to let a satisfactory ‘selfie’ be taken and then remind them to go out and photograph the world around us!
The South Sudanese exhibition was a great success, while the crowds were a little smaller compared to the week prior we still had a healthy 40-50 people attending the opening. No rain was to be seen and the stifling hot mid 30s afternoon made it very much feel like summer. Our discussion panel was chaired by Dor Akech a South Sudanese community development worker. In addition to our set questions the audience asked a range of questions to the young photographers and a range of feelings and experiences came out regarding what it means to be a young South Sudanese Australian.
Both weeks of the project featured three day trips around Sydney. The groups set out visiting places that they mostly hadn’t been before, we visited beaches, forests, water holes as well as suburbs new to many. Just as important as the photography on the day trips was the interactions between the participants. It was pleasing to see the groups making new friends and navigating new experiences together. Seeing the friendships that were built and experiences shared for the first time together was undoubtedly a highlight for me.
A few weeks ago myself and Bahram from Community Migrant Resource Centre organised a final catch up for both groups at a local cafe in Parramatta. Over tea, coffee or juice I presented each photographer with a framed photo from the project. It felt like a perfect way to round out the project. As I take final stock of Seeing Summer I feel personally deeply proud of what we achieved. The head of finance at CMRC has confirmed that we ran under budget and still have a small amount of money left. Our plan with the left over money is to offer a further opportunity to young during the April holidays. The details are still being worked out and I promise to keep people updated once they have been confirmed.
I once again thank everyone for their donations and support to the project, without you all it wouldn’t have been possible. I hope by now everyone has received an email with a receipt of your donation from CMRC. If people haven’t, let me know and I will follow up.
Seeing Summer wrap up – week 1 Afghan photographers
What better way to welcome my blog into 2015 than to start with a reflection of Seeing Summer.
It feels weird to be writing in past tense about Seeing Summer. I can’t believe it is finished, the workshops, the exhibitions, the discussion panels , they are all now things of the past. As I reflect on the two weeks I feel a deep sense of pride for the young photographers and what they have achieved through the project.
I have thought and written a lot about Seeing Summer with this in mind I I have decided to break this post into 2 parts, week 1 Afghan photographers and week 2 photographers.
Each group, both the Afghan and South Sudanese photographers displayed impressive individuality, creativity and team works skills throughout the project.
Our first week with the young Afghan photographers was a special experience for me as the facilitator. I found the time with the photographers very moving. Some of the stories along the way struck a deep cord with me and by the final day of the exhibition and discussion panel I found tears welling up as I attempted a thank you speech in Dari.
This group’s willingness to learn and try something new was wonderful for me as the facilitator, such a great group to work with. The youngest of the Afghan group, three 17-year-old teenage boys always had a joke or something funny to point out, they left me constantly smiling. I have since stayed in touch with them through social media and one in particular always asks when we are doing more for the project! The older members of the Afghan photographers were very sharp, they displayed a maturity and wisdom through their work and it was clear they understood the power of the camera to tell stories.
Despite the week of hot weather, at the exhibition opening we weren’t graced with good weather. As the crowd gathered at the UNE lecture theatre for the discussion panel a massive storm moved in from the west, perhaps the epic storm was symbolic of the culmination of the project, if not it was definitely helpful in building the atmosphere for the event!
We were able to engage Ali Nadir an Afghani folk musician to play before the discussion panel. The panel was chaired by the wonderful Tasneem Saeid an Iranian Kurdish lawyer. Tasneem was great in her role and found a balance of questions from the audience and also feelings from the photographers on the panel that captured their feelings on racism, Islamaphobia as well as some of the challenges facing asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
With the storm brewing we cut the discussion panel in half and everyone headed down early to the streets to see the exhibition before the rain. The exhibition was a sight, it filled the entire alleyway where Three Ropes Café is situated opposite the Parramatta train station. The group moved through the alleyway and had just enough time to see the work before the rain, thunder and lighting started to come down and we all bustled back to the lecture theatre for the rest of the discussion panel. Viewing the work gave the audience extra stimulus for questions once the discussion panel resumed. Following the panel discussion we then provide servings of amazing Afghan food from Khaybar, a local restaurant in Auburn. The food was enjoyed and demolished by all as the Afghan photographers mingled with members of the public.
While the rain limited the time people had to see the work, the week of heat dried things up within a few hours in time for the Sydney Festival opening a few hours later. By strategically having our first Seeing Summer exhibition on the same night as Sydney Festival’s Parramatta opening we were able to expose hundreds of people to photograpjic stories they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
Below are examples of the work from a number of the participants in the Seeing Summer Afghan photography exhibition.