August 1, 2011

by: Pat Hernandez

A group of kids being taught life's lessons through a camera, learn about life the hard way when their cameras are stolen.  A local company comes to the rescue with new cameras.

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Longtime Houston photographer Ben DeSoto is teaching 45 kids from low income families how to tell a story using a camera.  It's part of a summer youth program sponsored by FotoFest, an international non-profit art and education organization.  It created a program called "Literacy Through Photgraphy."  Program Manager Kristin Scarbovig says it helps teachers improve students' communication and creative skills using photography.

"We go into classrooms with artists doing artist residencies, and we also train local Houston-area teachers.  We provide them with the curriculum that is focused around four themes, which are self portrait, family, community and dreams, and we asked students to explore these themes visually and in writing, in order to tell their own stories."

She says the camera encourages students to write and think critically, and teaches them technology skills.

"By taking their own photographs they are then inspired to write, which then inspires their photography.  So, the two go hand in hand, and the students wouldn't want to do one without the other."

But halfway through the program, someone broke into DeSoto's car and stole more than 3 dozen cameras that students were using in his class.  Not long after the theft, help came from individual and corporate cash donations, and the Houston Camera Exchange.  GM Abby Jeter says, after her Nikon rep told her what happened, she called FotoFest wanting to help.

"What kind of cameras have y'all used in the past, and how many were stolen and, I scoured what I had in the store to make a fit, and we were able to donate Nikon cameras to the students."

Jeter helped DeSoto in giving his students like Nya a crash course in using the point-and-shoot cameras.

Nya: "He's telling us like what to describe, what backgrounds we want to use, what people, and what type of like, what does it mean and stuff."

Hernandez: "What do you hope to learn from the program?"

Nya: "I want to grow up one day, like to be a teacher. I know what he taught me, and I'll take it on."

DeSoto says FotoFest has been an incredible vehicle for instruction.  He says he's fortunate to have been given the opportunity to teach the kids.

"'Literacy Through Photography' has been operating for over 25 years, and helping use pictures to trigger the ability to use language, using language to help the ability to have a visual literacy, they just inform each other.  Plus, the prescence of being in a kid's life and saying 'I believe in you, you can do this', that's so important."

The new cameras will allow the students to complete their project that opens later this month at Project Row Houses on Holman.

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