Picturing Wanteete: Project Update #1

Posted: 04/22/2014
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For folks just tuning in, Louise Contino, a New York-based photographer is spending four months teaching the villagers the basics of film photography from February to June 2014. Her goal, to help the poverty-stricken community to tell their story via the medium of photography.

Read all about it in our first blog by FPP Correspondent Viviane Li HERE.

Pineapples
above: The Wanteete community presented Louise with Pineapples upon her arrival


Picturing Wanteete Photo Collective Project

Update by Louise Contino / April 2014

I have reached the halfway point. The past two months in Uganda have been a whirlwind of amazing and challenging new experiences for me. Two months remain and I am so grateful for this additional time because I am certainly not ready to return home yet!
In fact, things are just starting to get really, really good! And so interesting!

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above: Here's half the class working on their first lesson on manipulating the camera controls for correct focus and exposure.


I am happy to report that the project got off the ground successfully and that we are making a lot of headway. The Wanteete Photo Collective is composed of seventeen beautiful people that represent different key actors in their community. Some of the roles we have represented in the collective include a mother, a father, a teacher, a school organizer, an elder, a male student, a female student, and a community leader. Bringing such a diverse group of people together allows this project to represent seventeen distinct voices and unique perspectives on the Wanteete community, which I think will be extremely valuable to the narrative in the end. Not too mention, we have loads of fun together.

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We meet twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays for a few hours. We make art, we laugh, we learn the basics, we engage in serious conversations about the community's struggles and visions for change and most of all we enrich each others lives in unforgettable ways through this crazy cultural exchange that I've concocted.

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Please visit the Facebook page to get a closer look of what really goes on "behind the scenes" in the photo collective each week. I just released a post on Picturing Wanteete that features 96 photos documenting the evolution of the Photo Collective and some of our best milestones. Highlights from this album are included in this MEGA update, but please peruse the rest of the album at your leisure to get a fuller picture. It is my pleasure to share this with all of you!

Over the past five weeks I have witnessed wonderful changes in the self-esteem and confidence of several collective members through participation in this project-- most especially in Robinah (age 15) and Mpiima (age 13), the collective's youngest members.

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Before joining the collective, most people had never seen a camera before let alone operated one. It has been a slow, difficult and magical journey to teach them how to use their camera as a tool. I am pleased to report that we are getting terrific results.

Last Friday the Photo Collective learned how to hand-process film for their first time. Logistical issues have required me to assume the responsibility of developing all the film on a bi-weekly basis. It's a LOT of work, but I don't mind.

Of course, I wish that everybody could be responsible for developing their own film all the time. However, some logistical roadblocks stand in our way. Mostly it's the lack of running water, limited equipment and supplies, and the technical challenge of mastering film processing as a novice (we have little room for error because film stock is limited). The good news is that later this month I will be spending 10+ days in the community living with all my new friends, and I plan on engaging the Collective in film processing again at that point.

So far the Collective has taken over 1,000 photographs. MY GOODNESS THAT'S A LOT OF IMAGES! Sorting through all of them requires a significant portion of my time, and planning group critiques for 17 students is certainly challenging.

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Of course, I wish that everybody could be responsible for developing their own film all the time. However, some logistical roadblocks stand in our way. Mostly it's the lack of running water, limited equipment and supplies, and the technical challenge of mastering film processing as a novice (we have little room for error because film stock is limited). The good news is that later this month I will be spending 10+ days in the community living with all my new friends, and I plan on engaging the Collective in film processing again at that point.

So far the Collective has taken over 1,000 photographs. MY GOODNESS THAT'S A LOT OF IMAGES! Sorting through all of them requires a significant portion of my time, and planning group critiques for 17 students is certainly challenging.

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Now I really need the students to focus (quite literally, please focus your cameras people!!) and zero in on what they really want their final photo narratives to be about. Of course, I don't expect the Collective to be producing masterpieces but it is important to me that the final product communicates a meaningful message to the world about the community struggles and the strength of the Wanteete people. We have lots of work to do, and thankfully everyone still is very inspired and engaged. It is so exciting to think of where this hard work will lead us.

The project's website will be up and running soon too. I look forward to sharing that with you also, so stay on the lookout. For now, it's your turn to share. Please visit the Facebook page, "like" it if you have not yet, and share it widely with your friends. This project is all about building awareness and with your help I can be sure that the Wanteete Photo Collective's story reaches a wider audience throughout the world.

After processing all the film, I scan all the negatives into my computer with this nifty portable film scanner that your contributions allowed me to purchase! Thanks again to each and everyone of you for your continued support. I simply could not be doing any of this without your encouragement and financial backing. You're awesome!

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I need to give specific shout outs to two amazing people who made the long journey to visit me in Uganda and show their support and love. The first is Bruno B. Feder from Brazil, my lovely project assistant. Bruno and I became friends through the community at the International Center for Photography, and he offered to come visit me in Uganda and help assist the project. I didn't really believe him. . . but then, he really did show up! And at the perfect time no less. I was really sick with a stomach virus when Bruno arrived and he was such a good friend to me that I got better in no time! He was an immense help with getting the project established in Phase 1 and it meant the world to me for him to volunteer his time and talent to my project. Woo Hoo Bruno!



Then, on the day Bruno left the country, my brilliant, handsome and amazing boyfriend Eli Kinigstein arrived en scene. We spent one week working on my project and one week traveling west together to venture on several amazing expeditions in and around the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon. I am a seriously lucky lady to have such a supportive partner. Sorry if this makes you blush Eli, but thanks A LOT. You're the best.

Sending you all my love and gratitude from sunny, beautiful Uganda. Be well and please stay in touch. Happy Spring to you all!

My very best,
Louise Contino

 

All photos © 2014 Louise Contino. Re-printed with permission.

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