The photography-dance workshop aimed to pull the kids from the cycle of street labor and enhance their lives with exposure to the arts.
Three volunteers conducted a photography – dance workshop. Antoine d’Agata is a photographer with the prestigious Magnum photography agency. Choreographer Sangeeta Isvaran works worldwide using dance, music, and movement in politically charged and social needs context. Art-therapist Paula Holme examines trauma and emotion revealed through creative _expression.
During the photography workshop, the kids bring their cameras to the marketplace in which their families work and buy their meals. Like the tourists who venture into this ‘authentic’ location, the kids discover the bustling activity with fresh eyes. ‘Photograph people,’ is one direction in a lesson that includes notes on light, composition, and documenting others while in action.
They also visit their own village as photographers, and learn to represent their home spaces. They walk through the tourist streets and enjoy temporary status with the foreigners as fellow explorers; all armed with cameras, while other kids not attending the workshop continue to beg and to work. Along the way, the children learn the value of creating images, and of articulating their own perspectives. Says Go, age 14, ‘I want to show people the real life here in Cambodia, so that they can understand our lives and help us.’
The dance workshop is held in an open-air classroom, a quiet space far from the cacophony of the street and the cramped quarters of the village. It begins with the children moving awkwardly in their bodies, mimicking movements of their teacher. They discuss motivations and feelings around images they took, revealing concerns in their lives. They literally learn to find their voice, first through exercises finding pitch, then sounds, and finally formulating a rap song about street life.
We see the kids evolve from restlessness and uncertainty to having a semblance of focus and ambition to do creative work.
The children’s workshop and the festival converge for the children’s show, a multimedia performance that combines all the workshop elements. This event is at Wat Damnak, a wat adjacent to the village where the children live. The performance brings pride to the children, their families, and the community, and is a unique opportunity for the locals and the international crowd to share an event together. An installation piece with the children’s photos is on permanent display in the area of the wat.
The event leads to an opportunity for the kids to perform in an upscale hotel as a fundraising event for their education. Dressed in new clothes and on their best behavior, the kids perform for an international audience that includes local dignitaries. They are in a space that is otherwise off limits to them, bringing their life on the street to the attention of an elite group.
After the festival, the kids are back on the streets without the oasis of escape offered by the workshop. While they are selling, they are also reading through notebooks, trying to learn lessons that other kids, younger than they, learn in school. It appears that the workshop was an anomaly in their lives, a taste of stimulation amidst a life of poverty.
They express the desire to go to school and to learn, says Go, ‘I want to go to school so that I can get a good job and support my family.’