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Kids With Cameras

Anne Taylor Fleming presents an essay on how children in Los Angeles picture life in South Africa.

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    The photographs would be compelling no matter who took them. The faces of South Africa: Dancers in full tribal regalia; a homeless girl, pretty and blonde; a mother and child in one of the townships– they capture what the best pictures often do: The tension between beauty and sorrow. It is hard to imagine that these photographs in this exhibit at the Los Angeles City Hall were taken by kids– eight, eleven, thirteen.

    These young photojournalists were among the 7,000 delegates who attended the third world conference against racism that was held in Durban, South Africa, late last summer. Their trip– and ambitions– began here in this building, the old Venice Library in this struggling slice of west Los Angeles, home to the Venice arts Mecca, one of those small optimistic neighborhood organizations that hustles to stay afloat and is dedicated to bringing the arts to lower- income kids.

    (Singing) Six of the lucky ones, who have participated in photography workshops, went on the South Africa trip, sponsored by the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. It was a noisy, intense, and joyous two-week stay. They went from downtown Durban, site of quite a few anti-western demonstrations, into the townships and the countryside, clicking away as they went, this small photo-tribe of American kids.

    MICHAEL LINARTE, Age 11: I thought I was going to go to, like, some kind of "national geographic" kind of thing where there was lions and tigers, and people live in huts and stuff like that. When I got there, they actually had, like, houses, but not very good quality houses, unless you went to, like, the better areas.

    JUSTIN HILL, Age 17: People would walk up to me and ask me… speak to me in Zulu, and I'll say, "no, no, no, no– I'm from America." And then, after they hear me speak, they go, like, "whoa, okay."


    Their cameras gave them an articulateness beyond their years, allowing them to frame images they could not frame with words. In the townships, they taught the local kids how to use cameras and took pictures of burning sugarcane fields. They photographed AIDS orphans, kids about their own age who had lost their parents to the disease, and photographed children in homeless shelters.

    RAE WRIGHT, Age 9: She came out with her mother, and she asked her if we could take shots of her. Her mother said sure, and so we went in front of her house, and just took shots.


    Eight-year-old Ray took the picture of this young girl, who lives in a shelter. The group had taken with them pictures from home, a kind of ambassadorial show-and-tell, to say, "see, people suffer where we come from, too."

    DELISA ALEJANDRO, Age 13: They thought that America had no poverty, any poverty, that it was just, like, a wonderful place, but then when they looked at some of the books, they were, like, "this is America? I didn't expect it to be like that."


    Now they had pictures from South Africa to bring back here and show their friends and classmates, their parents, and their city. They had been out in the world, and like good photojournalists, had brought the world back with them. They also returned to their country feeling lucky and grateful for everything they have.

    EAMON WRIGHT, Age 13: I actually met a guy from Afghanistan. I met Hasidic Jews, I met, like, Egyptians, everyone.

    SELENA VARGAS, Age 16: I take them more seriously now. I do, and stuff, because, like, over there, they were just, like… like, they had only a limited amount of stuff and everything so now I take, like… you can never take anything for granted anymore.


    It made me feel really grateful to live in a house with a loving family.


    More than anything, they have their photographs, the beautiful yet haunting images kids took of other kids thousands of miles on the other side of the globe, and often, like the best of photojournalism, some of their work transcends the boundaries of photojournalism and crosses over into art.

    I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.

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