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Shootback Photo Exhibition: Giving a Voice to Kenya’s Children
Detail: The Shootback photo exhibition in Paris is a 10-year retrospective of a project started in Nairobi by Lana Wong, an American fine art photographer. On display are works such as fifteen-year-old George Otieno's image “Relaxing Time” showing a young child crawling on garbage in Nairobi.

Wong took 31 young people aged 12 to 17 from the Mathare Youth Sports Association, and taught them photography every Saturday for two years. £15 Fuji Clearshot cameras were given to the learners and later they had the use of two single lens reflex cameras. Wong showed them how to take pictures and write about their lives.

Wong said, "We looked for kids with a sense of curiosity and adventure and the idea was to give them a voice….I taught them to be as free as possible, gave them assignments such as 'what do you like, what you don't like about life in Mathare'. Instead of foreigners telling their stories, it was getting local people to tell them."

The Paris show has exhibited 36 out of the thousands of pictures taken over two years. The pictures depicted what children saw around them in Mathare. Not all the images are however grim.There are pictures of boys and girls playing football. There is a photo of children diving into a brown river and a portrait of two children standing either side of a television with huge grins on their faces.

Many young people who participated in Shootback 10 years ago have gone on to become professional photographers themselves. One such success story is Julius Mwelu, 22, who now works as a photographer for the UN in Nairobi. Mwelu took some dramatic pictures during the recent post-election violence. A projection of 50 more recent pictures of the group features Mwelu's shot of a pregnant woman running past blazing shacks. Mwelu has created his own foundation and every Saturday he teaches kids how to tell their own stories through photography. Other Shootout successes include Mohammed Diahir, 24, who lives in London, and takes celebrity pictures; James Njuguna, 24, who is a staff photographer for Kenya's largest daily, the Nation, and who won the journalist of the year award from the Nation media group last year. Others, including Barisa are documenting life in the Nairobi slums through an offshoot project of Shootback called Slum-TV, also featured in the Paris exhibition.

Wong proudly surveys the group's work. "I am humbled by what they have managed to achieve," she says.

Source: Based on a story titled, Kenya photography: 'It gives them a voice', by Mark Tran in guardian.co.uk, Friday May 30 2008
Date: June 1 2008