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Kids With Cameras' Zana Briski is WorldChanging
Cameron Sinclair, 23 Nov 04

tapasi-self-portrait.jpgEnglish born Zana Briski came to the states and took up photography after earning a master's degree in theology and religious studies at the University of Cambridge. In 1997 she made her second trip to India, this time to start documenting the prostitutes of Calcutta's red light district. After developing relationships woth the communtiy three years later she began conducting a series of photographic workshops with the children of the Calcutta prostitutes. By 2002 Briski had formed Kids with Cameras, a non-profit organization to help educate the children of Calcutta's prostitutes and to empower other marginalized children worldwide through learning the art of photography.

In 2003 Briski and co-director Ross Kauffman completed their first film, Born Into Brothels, a snapshot (sorry, bad pun) into the groups work in Calcutta. In the past year the film has won over 17 film festival awards, including the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Audience Award and being shortlisted for the IDA award, the press are already talking about a possible Oscar nod for this stunning film.

Following the success of Born into Brothels, Zana Briski and the Kids With Cameras staff are mounting a campaign to provide a combined educational and residential facility for the children whose lives were touched by the workshops, and for children like them around the world.

If funding is found, the Kids with Cameras School of Leadership and Arts will operate under the principles of leadership, compassion, wisdom and artistic exploration. The Home and School will provide a safe space for learning and expression, away from the dangers and degradation of the city’s red light district. Teachers will empower the city’s forgotten children by encouraging academic excellence, leadership qualities, participation in sports activities and studies of the arts.

Zana Briski and her efforts are truly World Changing.

Want to see more? Starting December 8th Born Into Brothels makes its theatrical release to selected cities around the country.

attached photo by Tapasi, 11

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Why is this initiative "World Changing"? I have my doubts about all those initiatives set up by Westerners who want to "empower" the damned of the earth.

What does this kind of initiatives *really* contribute to poverty relief, which is the main driver of women going into prostitution in India?

Wouldn't it be more productive if these Westerners would use their energy to tackle the roots of the problem, instead of alleviating some of its symptoms?

I truly think that "empowerment" as it is often used, is not a "world changing" engagement, but more a conservative one, aimed at preserving the status quo.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 Nov 04

I don't class this as one of 'those initiatives'*, Zana used her skills as a photographer not only to document but to learn about the needs of a small, and seldom noticed, community - the children of prostitutes. It is a community that she returned to and spent many years with before venturing into starting workshops and eventually a foundation to support.

Is building a school for children just creating a tool of 'empowerment'? I believe it is more than that. In addition to breaking the status quo on education, Zana is showing that one person can make a stand.

World Changing is more than a 'saving the world' principle it is, as the site says, an idea that has been created from the tools, models and ideas that lie all around us. Scale of response is not a determining factor.

For me World Changers are not always the Fred Cuny or Amory Lovins types, they are the folks who have decided they don't want to be 'all mouth and no trousers' and instead of always talking started acting on their convictions.

There are actually a number of photographers I consider as one the verge of World Changing - Ed Burtynsky and Chris Rainer to name just two.

The real issue seems to be how does one begin to try to tackle a global issue if you are going to be automatically judged by some as a "Westerner who want[s] to "empower" the damned of the earth."

It is hard enough to take the risk, both personal and financial, to develop projects which address certain issues, usually with little or no support, and especially when you are subject to criticized around every corner. Just food for thought?


*By 'those initiatives' I mean the celebrity or politically driven projects that don't address a problem and in some cases create more of a crisis than prior interventions.

Posted by: Cameron Sinclair on 24 Nov 04

Wow Lorenzo, did you actually follow the links?

Beyond raising the public's awareness of an invisible and victimized group -- a proven tactic for social change since at least the time of Jacob Riis -- this project actually raises real money to help get the kids out of the lives they were born into. If that's not "*really* contributing to poverty relief" I don't know what is.

Great article, Cameron!

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 24 Nov 04

Ask one of the children at "Kids with cameras" if their world has been changed - I think they would reply yes!
I worked in India amongst street children for years helping them get into education, break the cycle of poverty and have a chance in life and I don't think we were adding to the problem. In truth there has to be approaches to both the structural problems and the immediate needs. There needs to be top level change and the creation of hope and opportunity at grass roots level as well.

Posted by: Phil Lane on 24 Nov 04

Cameron and Alex, I agree, it's a nice initiative, but I was more referring to "this kind of projects" as a way to indicate that they don't really provide structural and long-term changes.

1. "Scale of response is not a determining factor." I disagree. I think financial means can be used more beneficially. E.g. by sponsoring the anti-AIDS-campaigns which these prostitutes themselves run.
2. Alex, you say: "a victimized group". These people are not victimized. They become victimized only when the Westerner arrives and victimizes, problematizes or "exoticizes" them. I know a bit about the prostitutes of Mumbai (not those of Calcutta, but I bet the situation is the same), and they're very powerful, self-reliant and intelligent people. They could use money for their own projects though.

Anyway, I just have the bad habit of prioritizing things, and I think that every dollar for the kids-with-camera's project is a dollar which is not used for AIDS-campaigns or direct structural poverty relief.

However, if such a photography project triggers more Westerners to send more dollars which finally end up in those more fundamental projects, -- then that's ok with me.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 Nov 04

Well, let's agree to disagree on the merits on Kids with Cameras.

But I will point out that a number of studies have shown that as worthwhile opportunities to give rise in number, so does the amount given: people give more, overall, when they're aware of more good projects deserving of their support. It's not a zero-sum game.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 24 Nov 04

Isnt it a bit naive to think that simply sending money to the "developing" world counts as poverty relief? It doesn't. Structural change, AIDS etc. is not simply a matter of throwing money at a problem but quite often involve deeper cultural issues. A lot of money is wasted, so to argue that a photographer should not be doing their job but rather donating the money to the World Bank or whomever is a little silly.

When complaining about "Westerners" who "want to empower" I think the key marker for success is how sustained the engagement is. If it's an in-and-out job then that isn't really going to change much. If, however, the individual maintains a long term relationship then that almost certainly has a mutually positive impact.

Finally, I agree that all too often people from Western countries who go to "developing" countries are often blind to forms of abundance other than economic. So the label of "poor" is all too often in the eye of the beholder, which then creates an attitude that re-enforces people's perceptions of themselves as "poor" - I think our vision should be broader than simply economic criteria of what poverty is.

Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 25 Nov 04

New York City readers might want to stop by Film Forum in the next few weeks, where some of the images by the Kids With Cameras are on display in the lobby. A friend and I were really engrossed in them last night. "Born into Brothels" will be showing at FF December 8-December 21.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 25 Nov 04

I'm from Chicago, IL but born and brought up in Mumbai, India. I just wanted to say that it is so good to know that some one has taken initiative and finally done something good and changed lives. Zana, you have no idea how much respect I have for you. Do keep up the good work.

Posted by: Bhakti Dedhia on 4 Nov 05



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