Sunday, 7 January 2007

Side by Side: Workshops begin

We all meet in St. Joseph’s monastery, Abu Ghosh, on top of a hill somewhere near Jerusalem. Fourteen kids, seven Palestinian and seven Israeli, all there to take part in a photographic dialogue. Each has their own goal: some want to show the other side what their life is really like, some want to speak to the world with their photographs, to show their view on the conflict, other simply want to learn photography.

Over two days, brief moments of panic as I start to realise how difficult this could be. Not everyone is coming from the same place, with the same ideas, not everyone is ready for the challenge of talking to kids from the other side. I speak to one Palestinian whose father, a well-known photojournalist, was killed during an Israeli army raid into Hebron. He refused to work with any of the Israeli students. But still, we knew that because he was there, he was there to learn something, to hear another perspective.

It’s difficult to keep the students focused, between talking to their friends and listening to music on their mobile phones. As the project manager, I can just sit back and watch as the photographers run through shutter speed, focus, composition with the kids. Over the course of two days, the students switch between inspired and anarchic every other minute. On the second morning, the other hotel guests complain that the kids were running around like maniacs until 5 in the morning. I didn’t hear anything. I slept soundly, with sporadic dreams of being shot and being taken hostage – this seems to be happening a lot lately.

In the conference room, we find yesterday’s notes ripped up and strewn on the floor, and across one sheet is written “Where are the educators?” I don’t know what it means. These are the challenges I hadn’t expected, but in between moments of fear and chaos, there are moments of inspiration when the kids seem to finally understand what they want to do with their photography.
“I want to learn to speak with images, not words.”
“I want to show the world what our lives are really like.”
“I want to try to understand the other side through their images.”

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