The second day began with us feeling a little adventurous and inspired by yesterday’s photographic activity in the immediate environs of our workshop, and we walked to the Caritas facilities from our AirBnb. Though we successfully navigated ourselves through the El-weibdeh neighborhood to the workshop with five minutes to spare, Nadr was waiting from his lookout post out front with a morning cigarette and “where have you guys been?”
Our workshop day begun with slightly smaller numbers but the same core group was there and more new friends trickled in with some allowances made for traffic. Our objective for the day was to teach some basic portraiture and give everyone a chance to practice. Their homework later that day would be to photograph a portrait of someone in their family– an intimating assignment that few completed! The hands-on practice consisted of learning how to control and if necessary bounce light onto your subject. We had several makeshift “stations” with backdrop paper and natural light from wherever we could find it. Our students were particularly ingenious, picking up the concept and using cast-aside shiny white poster paper to reflect light from assisting smartphones according to their wishes.
After more VSCO time, and facilitating the students to make some editing decisions in front of the group via a big flatscreen we plugged our phones into, everybody was pretty much on the same page and so we concluded the day with amazing lunch catered again by Nadr’s sister.
I stayed behind after Krysti and Michael left to return to our apartment, they were both pretty beat but I still had some energy I wanted to invest in some good strong solo time. I sipped an American style “cold brew” at the Rumi Cafe and worked out this spoken word poem, trying to process for myself why I cared about this project, helping refugees represent themselves in social media to confront skewed western media messaging. This is me working out “why am I here?”.
I’ll share more about the meaning of my poem in the next post “Day 3”.
The third day of our workshop began similarly as Day two, swaggering to our workshop with powers of self-navigation, we even jumped in a “servise” local cab shuttle paying an astonishingly low price of 1 JD for 3 of us. This time we added to the adventure getting ourselves falafel with the spare time.
I had ordered Krysti to continue the antibiotic series I put her on 36 hrs ago, even though she was reporting an improving trajectory– but she still had visceral reaction to the mere mention of “falafel” (the likely cause of her woes)– so she had to take medicine on an empty stomach, which actually took her back a couple notches in her feeling well… my bad Krysti! Thus we began the workshop, the same core group from day two present and all of us on time.
The focus of this days instruction– our last planned day– was to add to portraiture the effective use of place to establish person. What is unique or specific about the context that where you are the people must know to understand the subject you are photographing? We were moving through the whole workshop toward the largest objective of improving these Iraqi’s craft of storytelling: to tell the unique stories of their situation, filled with human detail that causes the transcendence of stereotype. Sometimes the hardest part of this finding detail in the mundane!
We worked through the portraits from yesterday a bit, to review photo editing tools available to them on their phone through VSCO, and then took a photo-essay “walk about” to a nearby landmark called Paris Circle. We were each of us to take a unique pathway to this shared destination and take 6 photos that would capture the choices we had taken to get there and people and things we encountered along the way, or whatever formed strong impressions.
We came home and worked through the next layer of effective storytelling about place: use of captions! Everyone titled their own photos and edited them in front of the group with feedback.
We had our customary lunchtime to end the day, and they all asked if we could please make one more day available for the workshop. They all promised that they would come. Michael, Krysti, Nadr, and I looked at each other and then the group and said, why not? OK. So we added Day 4 and upon our return home tried to figure out what we were going to teach to wrap everything together.
We were celebrating what it meant that our participants wanted a fourth day, we had really connected with them and had brought something of value to their situation.
This was the last day with our Iraqi friends and we knew we would be saying goodbyes in addition to giving them everything remaining we could to help them take powers of self-representation into their hands. When we arrived we discovers some were there that we had been with all weekend, others sadly were not, and still some new participants joined (on the last day!)
We were so proud of our group when they took it upon themselves to bring the new guys up to speed about all they had learned, revealing they had been listening quite attentively and had absorbed what we taught them!
Michael asked the participants about their use of social media and Nadr shared about the way he uses his instagram account in light of several competing international audiences. He was a good teacher and I think this section of the workshop caused Nadr himself to really connect with the workshops aims. He plans on continuing this type of refugee-focused photo workshop effort on his own after we leave, another thing we are celebrating as we look at our modest impact here.
We asked the participants to share about what they learned from the workshop, here is audio about what they said (some in Arabic some in English).
Our time was concluded by a personal visit from the priest who gave us such organizational support. He said Nadr was a trustworthy friend to have in the media in a time where you can’t count on people. He encouraged the refugees to document their lives in public for the world to learn what is the situation in Jordan and elsewhere. We couldn’t agree more.