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Capturing the moment

Young people pick up film cameras and train their lenses on Tuggeranong, with stunning results, Megan Doherty writes.

They are images with soul. A solitary figure scootering through a graffitied underpass, a sunset through a spider's web, two girls laughing, an abandoned shopping trolley, the shoes of young people.

The black and white photographs of images around Tuggeranong are arresting, not only for their simple beauty but because they were created by young people without any prior experience of film cameras, some of whom also come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

GALLERY: See the young people's photos

Their work is on display in an exhibition in Queanbeyan called Pictures of Life, the culmination of a project organised by YWCA of Canberra youth worker Ben Kane. He was inspired by a documentary about children in Calcutta's red light district to get some of Canberra's more disadvantaged kids involved in photography.


The documentary, Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids, showed that the children of prostitutes learnt a new skill which fostered much-needed self-esteem when they were given cameras and encouraged to capture their world.

''I thought, 'That would be awesome to do that','' Kane, 22, said.

He encouraged young people using the YWCA's services at the Mura Lanyon Youth and Community Centre to get involved with the project.

PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre provided the resources, taking the young people into the darkroom to show them how to develop film at a time when digital cameras have all but obliterated the practice.

PhotoAccess teacher Sean Davey said he had to source film-based cameras through an appeal on the PhotoAccess Facebook page and also picked up a few ''basic point and shoots'' from a recycling centre.

It was the magic of the darkroom, he said, that captured the young people's imagination.

''Just the excitement of seeing an image appear out of a white sheet of paper - once they see that, they're hooked,'' he said.

Davey was impressed by the results, saying he wished he'd taken some of the images himself. ''They're very natural and it's very powerful stuff, I think,'' he said.

''It's actually a really important record. I don't think there are many images taken of that area, especially en masse. There are now 30 rolls of film taken in Lanyon and Tuggeranong that didn't exist before.''

Davey said working with film cameras and young people brought photography back to basic intuition and ''living in the moment'' rather than the ''worrying'' and reviewing and deleting of digital images.

He said young people, especially, were good at producing natural, truthful images. ''I went to the Picasso exhibition in Sydney recently and his quote, 'It took my four years to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child' really does ring true,'' he said.

For the young people, it was just fun.

Celine Malibe, 13, ''wanted the photos I took to make people smile and I think that's what I did''.

Callan McPherson, 13, ''liked seeing my photos on display at the exhibition in Queanbeyan the most for other people to see'', while Taylah Altmann, 14, was ''surprised that my pictures actually turned out so good, did not expect this at all''. Kane says the program was ''incredibly successful'' and gave a boost to the young people, some of whom came from very difficult home lives.

''For me the program was a rewarding experience personally. I learnt so much about the participants involved and I look forward to being involved in similar programs in the future.''

Pictures of Life is on at The Photography Room, 14 Foster Street, Queanbeyan until February 19. Opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 6pm.