August 29th was the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans. The rest of the country watched helplessly as nature destructively made its path across the state and left a wake of confusion, pain and torment. It takes years to rebuild the city of New Orleans. But amidst the rubble and tragedy we’ve watched a community survive and bring life and spirit back to the city.
One project that arose out of the aftermath of the hurricane was the New Orleans Kid Camera Project. A group of artist and photographers came together to help children process the disaster and loss with the help of photography.
The New Orleans Kid Camera Project was created to address the psychological and emotional impacts of Hurricane Katrina on children returning home to New Orleans. Through the use of photography, creative writing and mixed media, children from flooded neighborhoods explore their environment and express themselves, their stories and feelings with their friends. This project provides a venue for growth and recovery. By teaching the children tangible skills and exposing them to new means of expression, we hope to empower them to impact their lives and environment.
A Summer Intensive alumnus and former Career Training assistant, Ariya Martin, has been a part of the project since 2005 and talks about the organization.
When and how did you become involved with the New Orleans Kid Camera Project?
My initial involvement with KCP (New Orleans Kid Camera Project) began in November 2005. A friend and I had come to New Orleans to do volunteer clean-up and on our last night we were introduced to one of the co-founders, Cat Malovic, and the rest is history… Well, after this trip we returned in March of 2006, after holding a fundraiser back in Rochester, NY, where we were both living. We collected cameras and darkroom equipment and arrived in New Orleans not knowing how long we would stay. A lot happened through synchronicity, but also the fact that when I went down to volunteer I had in the back of my mind this idea to work with youth doing art projects, putting my skills as a photographer and teacher to use.
What is the most rewarding or inspiring aspect of the project for you?
The most rewarding and inspiring aspect of this work comes from the one-on-one interactions with our participants and their families. The nature of our mission takes us to the streets of New Orleans – our “classrooms” are front porches and neighborhoods. Creating and developing these relationships I have come to understand New Orleans in a much deeper and richer way. Even a so-called bad day can be rewarding when I think about these connections and how through these connections I have gone to high school graduations, birthday parties and congratulate participants that have gone on to college.
What changes have you seen in the kids involved?
There are more subtle changes and then more noticeable changes. In some of our participants I have seen them gain confidence in their own self-expression and some of our past participants have even gone on to apply to the local arts high school.
In the almost five years since Katrina, how has the project evolved?
The Camera Project has had to evolve and change along with the city. New Orleans has been creeping back towards normalcy and KCP has had to adjust their role in the community. We have expanded our programming to extend into the schools and we have also done more partnerships with community centers and the other youth organizations to provide workshops in photography. This is due mainly because kids are busier now than they were in the months following the storm. More families have returned, so more kids to play with, and with more schools open there are more organized after school programs for kids to get involved in such as sports teams and dance troupes.
Has your art changed or evolved since starting the kid camera project? If so how has it changed?
That’s a tough question. I would say that outwardly it may not have changed that much, but I think I am shifting towards making work that is more socially conscious. For the first couple of years it was difficult to make time for my own work, but as I have gotten back to my own art practice I see the role of the artist in a different light. Especially living in New Orleans, first with Katrina and now with the oil spill in the Gulf. It’s hard not to have this influence what I think about.
To see more about the Kid Camera Project, visit the website. kidcameraproject.org