When Steamboat Springs native Cody Reed showed up in Jilnotepe, Nicaragua, to teach high school last summer, her students lacked desks, books, pencils and paper. But as the curriculum worked out, the color of daily life and a little introspection would be the most valuable tools they'd need for summer school with Reed.
Reed supplied the rest -- thanks to enthusiastic hometown donors from Steamboat who gave her more than $1,000 worth of cameras and film. Her Nicaraguan students' mission: to document their lives in photographs and words.
What: Opening reception for "A Child's Perspective -- A Photo Documentary of Life: Photos by Nicaraguan Children," curated by Cody Reed When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday Where: Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center
Reed is back in Steamboat, having graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., a few weeks ago, and ready to share the fruits of her work in Nicaragua.
"A Child's Perspective -- A Photo Documentary of Life: Photographs by Nicaraguan Children" will be on display beginning Monday in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center. Among the novice photographers are Marisol, Manuel, Jayron, Ruth and Jasser -- unknown artists who have a lot to show and tell about peace, family and life appreciation in a developing country.
Reed got her inspiration for a Nicaraguan documentary project from a book called "Shootback," a collection of photographs taken by street children in Nairobi, Kenya, using disposable cameras.
"I was really struck by how honest the pictures were," Reed said.
She said she saw a level of clarity in the powerful, matte photographs that made her want to do a similar project with her Nicaraguan students. Despite that she had no cameras, film or money to develop pictures, her dad, David Reed, challenged her to tackle the project.
Seventeen donated cameras and 130 rolls of donated film later, Reed was off to her 2,500-student school, about 45 minutes southeast of Managua, Nicaragua. About 20 students were selected to participate in her photography and writing project.
"I didn't want to force anything on them. I just wanted to encourage them," Reed said.
A lot of the children had never touched a camera before, she said -- let alone thought about artistic considerations such as light or composition.
In addition to the challenges of the simplest photographic technology, Reed said there were significant barriers to expressing the types of complex memories, opinions and emotions she asked her students to write about.
Nicaraguan students traditionally study and learn by memorization, multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank, Reed said. But she pushed her students to expand on abstract ideas in their own thoughts and words. She asked them to write essays about "things that move you" and "things that disturb you."
"They just looked at me like I had a third eye," Reed said.
No one had made these students look at their lives from an outside perspective before, Reed said. She said her goal was to get them to look at their lives in a more objective view -- including what's unique, important, special and valuable.
The results, in brilliant images of daily life and essays translated from Spanish, are remarkable.
During Reed's summer project, an astute 18-year-old student, Marisol Alvarez Alfaro, wrote: "I say to the whole world, let us love one another without making distinctions of sex, race, color, language, or political or social position. ... Let us unite so that the whole world can be happy and live with dignity -- rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, all supporting each other. ... We all deserve a better life, a better future for our young people, with better opportunities for education and work. All of this and more is our obligation."
Reed said the most surprising and inspiring responses came from a single, simple query --"What would you change about your life?" The resounding theme of her students' responses was "nothing."
"I wouldn't change anything because with my life and through life I have learned and overcome many things," wrote a student named Helder.
"I wouldn't want to change anything. I already have the most important thing, my family," Anielka Parez wrote.