Let’s face it, times are tough and budgets are tight.
So when Debbie Gordon of Centennial College’s kidsmediacentre dreamed up “My Life in 20 Pictures”, she faced more than a few vexing challenges, not the least of it being money and equipment; she was operating on very tight budget provided by the college’s Applied Research and Innovation Centre.
Travel expenses to Grassy Narrows, lodging, wages for a team of four all added up and exhausted her resources, and that was before we even left Toronto.
One of the Kid’s Media Centre’s main goals was to leave a legacy to the kids of Grassy Narrows and, given this was a project centred on photojournalism, cameras seemed an obvious solution. But good gear is pricey, as any photographer will tell you, and there was little left in the bank. How to provide cameras for 14 kids, grades 4 and 8, became one the primary challenges.
Into the picture stepped Rod Macleod of Toronto-based Headshots, the professional arm of Henry’s Camera and Video. With a lot of charm and bit of arm twisting, Rod came through with 14 Panasonic cameras, all to be left with the Saskatcheway Anishinabe School at Grassy Narrows.
Today was a very busy day for our Toronto team. After being delayed by a long cargo train on our way to Grassy Narrows, we arrived at the Sakatcheway Anishinabe School to continue building on the photo-essay lesson from yesterday. The grade 7/8’s really enjoyed the props and creating stories, especially River, who happily collected all the props.
After a brief photo break Matt taught today’s lesson focusing on post-production. The students were fascinated to learn about cropping, exposure and straightening and enjoyed working on their photos on the computer.
While Arielle helped the students use Photoshop Elements, Matt and I conducted more interviews. We spoke with the school counsellor, Debbie, who has lived in Grassy Narrows on and off since 1979. We also spoke to Mary Ann, an Anishinabe elder who is very well respected in the community.
We left Grassy a little early today, so we could meet up with the grade 4’s after their soccer tournament. We met their bus at the McDonalds in Kenora. Their smiling faces and waving hands reinvigorated me. They are truly some of the sweetest, friendliest, children I have ever met.
We have two classes full of budding photojournalists after today’s lesson. We spent the day today talking with the Grade 4s and 8s about photo essays and photojournalists.
What is an essay? This is the question we started with in both classes. A lot of the children didn’t really know how to articulate what an essay was. In the Grade 8 class they have written a few essays, so they understood the concept of an essay pretty well. However, the Grade 4s had never really heard the word prior to today’s lesson, which we expected.
After working at defining the word “essay,” we moved on to the photo essay. It was important for them to understand this concept because this was exactly what we were asking them to do with the photos from the week: create a photo essay documenting their lives. In order to help them understand how they can tell a story through photos, we looked at a couple different examples of photo essays.
We talked a lot about how a photo essay can convey a mood, a theme or simply tell a story in the same way as a fairy tale: with a beginning, middle and end. I think this helped them see that there are a lot of different kinds of photo essays, all of which have the potential to tell a great story.
Spring is in full swing in Grassy Narrows, making the hour long drive from Kenora is a wonder of beautiful lakes and scenery. What a great way to start the day. We arrived and headed straight to the grade 4 classroom. The students were really excited to show us the photos they took the night before. The grade 4 children are stellar photographers. On average each student took 80 pictures and they were busy shooting pictures around the classroom when we got there.
Today’s lesson was all about photo essays and telling dynamic stories with pictures. Arielle showed the students a variety of photo essay styles, while Matt and I pulled the students out of class one by one to interview them for the documentary about Grassy Narrows.
As part of the photo essay lesson the students were given a prop and story and had to take six types of photos to tell the story. Each pair took an establishing shot, a close-up, an action shoot, an emotion shot, a point-of-view shot, and a concluding photo. The students were really great at using the props in creative ways to get interesting photos.
The school provides students with lunch and today the students had bannock burgers and onion rings, which seemed to be a big hit. After a quick lunch break we headed to the grade7/ 8 class to give them the photo essay lesson. Matt and I continued the one-on-one interviews and were able to get some really poignant responses from the students. Draven a grade 8 student who took a camera home Tuesday night got into a bit of trouble for climbing the water tower. When I asked him why he had done it, he said; “To get a picture of all of Grassy and the scenery.” Needless to say we told him that you should NEVER risk your life to take any photo.
Today was a great day in Grassy Narrows.
News of our photography program has spread through the community.
Kids from all grades were saying “hello” and asking us about our equipment and the cameras we will be leaving at the school.
We arrived in the grade 7/8 classroom to smiling faces and great enthusiasm.
The kids were excited to share the photos they took Monday night.
Everyone remembered to bring back their cameras and the students that were absent had cameras returned by relatives.
Matt gave a fantastic lesson on composition and framing helping the kids understand the five principles of photography; focus, zoom, move, rule of thirds, and light.
After Matt’s lesson we took the kids out to shoot some more complex photos utilizing the five principles.
After a quick lunch and camera cleaning we moved in to the grade 4 classroom, where I was in charge of the lesson plan.
I simplified the five photography principles into four: focus, move, zoom, light and to my surprise the students really picked-up on the rule of thirds concept and enjoyed using the grid while shooting their photos.
The five of us woke up early this morning and departed on our hour long journey to Grassy Narrows.
The drive is beautiful; we passed approximately 10 lakes, some still covered in ice from the long winter and several times we saw deer standing at the side of the road.
The road is narrow and full of sharp twists and turns but we arrived safely.
We reached the school just after nine and went into the grade 4 classroom to meet the kids.
After introducing ourselves and looking at some great photos from the past and present the cameras were handed out to the kids and they were given a scavenger hunt sheet to complete.
Enthusiastically the kids ran around the school yard taking pictures. A lot of the students got really great photos with interesting colours, lines, and even self portraits.
After lunch, we met the grade 7/8’s. They had a little more photographic experience and were quick to tell us about the photos they take with their iPhones and computer cameras.
Again, we introduced ourselves and had the kids complete a scavenger hunt challenge.
After returning to the classroom we assigned each student one of the cameras and gave them a glow stick (to create interesting photos) so they can begin shooting the 20 pictures that will be used to tell their stories.
My name is Georgia, I am one of the three Centennial College students that was chosen to go on the Grassy Narrows trip. We are all incredibly excited to get to Grassy Narrows tomorrow and meet the kids we will be teaching and who will be teaching us about their lives. But first we had to get to Northern Ontario from Toronto… After an early morning at the airport we embarked on a quick plane trip to Winnipeg, upon arriving in Winnipeg I lost my drivers license so the rest of the team had to take over the driving duties.
After briefly driving around Winnipeg we headed to Kenora which is approximately two hours away. The cottage where we are staying is beautiful and overlooks a serene river.
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