Newhouse master’s student explains passion for South Side Collective
Six students who make up the South Side Collective — a new photography class that provides children with tools to communicate visually — are creating something that is all about them: their lives, likes and interests. And every week they are excited to share those images with one another.
“What do you think this is?” asks one student, Nijereya Harris, as she shows a small LCD screen to anyone who is around. Others in the class crowd around, asking questions, such as “How did you do that?” Their uninhibited curiosity allows their minds to consider all the possibilities. They try to guess what is happening in the photograph and what it means.
I created the South Side Collective photography class so students can share their own stories and sculpt their narrative in society. Currently, six middle and high-school students make up the class, which is held at the South Side Communication Center. They are experimenting with photography and how documenting daily life can cause a lasting impression.
Photographic education programs for children have shown to be successful in a host of ways. Photographers and educators like Brendan Bannon and National Geographic photographer Reza, have worked with refugee children to provide a tool to share their voice, while also utilizing the images to increase grant funding and community awareness. The images created in these types of programs are sharing an intimate portrait of daily life. They are allowing children, who are often overlooked, to share their voice. Students are exposed to a life skill that could lead to a career. One of the most fascinating elements of a student photographic program is that only that student could record that specific moment in time. It is their piece of history to keep.
The main goal for the South Side Collective is allowing freedom of expression and communication to a group of children while giving them the opportunity to feel empowered through the work they produce.
I became interested in the idea of creating this visual communication program after seeing the work from the above-mentioned programs. My intention was to go beyond providing a tool for visual communication. I wanted the students to understand the value in a photograph, and the long-term value in making their own images. They are growing up in an age where photographs are not only important visual cues, but also are the primary way to communicate. And with social media, it is easy for six young photographers to share what life in Syracuse is like through their eyes.
Through this program, I also hope to better link the photography program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the South Side community. At Syracuse University, there is an abundance of young photographers creating community-centered documentary storytelling. I want to encourage these photographers to become more engaged with the communities they are documenting so they can understand the impact they have within the communities they document. An increase in community engagement will benefit the students of the South Side Collective and the Newhouse School alike.
While they might not yet realize it, the South Side Collective students have experienced tremendous growth that goes beyond just making a photograph. We take on weekly topics and think about how we can apply a grander theme to their images. One assignment was to photograph things they think are boring. This required the students to become more mindful. They had to consider things they usually overlook, like a pile of sticks, and even try to enjoy something they never think twice about, possibly even dislike. This process builds awareness — of oneself and one’s environment.
The hardest logistical challenge was collecting the cameras. We are not a nonprofit, yet. I hope to get this program to that level, but without the financial status behind a nonprofit, I couldn’t get companies to support us with gear donations. With the help of my peers in the Multimedia, Photography and Design program, we were able to crowdsource through Facebook and other social media. My goal was to get a camera in the hands of every student at the South Side Communication Center who wanted to take the class, and we were able to meet that goal.
I have never taken on a challenge like this before. I love teaching and empowering youth, but the challenges faced through this project made the rewards even sweeter. The students have a clear visual voice that is unique to them. They are uninhibited and ready to try anything. Using photography, the students are getting the chance to express their visual voice and to be heard. They are claiming and taking control of their narrative in society.
Dominique Hildebrand is a staff photographer with The Stand, a Newhouse School master’s student and the creator of the South Side Collective