Project X: Truth With a Camera

By Tema Stauffer

Powerful Stories: German TWAC student Ania Lehmann spent a week documenting the life of Bosnian gypsies and work being done in the community by a local NGO.

In 1994, Dr. Vme Edom Smith founded the Truth with a Camera (TWAC) Workshop in honor of the work of her parents, Cliff and Vi Edom, founders of the renowned Missouri Photo Workshop (MPW). A photojournalism pioneer, Cliff Edom created MPW in 1949, along with legendary figures Roy Stryker and Russell Lee, to instruct photojournalists in shooting honest images and telling powerful stories intended to educate the public. His well known credo was “Show truth with a camera. Ideally truth is a matter of personal integrity. In no circumstances will a posed or faked photograph be tolerated.”

Continuing this tradition, more than a dozen TWAC workshops have been held in the United States as well as in a number of developing countries. These workshops create opportunities for both college students and professionals to collaborate on documentary projects with NGOs and nonprofits. During each weeklong workshop, students receive daily critiques from coaches with expertise in visual storytelling to encourage social change.

Dallas, Texas-based photographer Uday Khambadkone participated in two workshops— in Quito, Ecuador, in 2010 and Zenica, Bosnia, in 2011. He comments, “Two things I love about TWAC—they work with nonprofit organizations and deal with real topics affecting people. Each student gets to work on a separate project and learn from each others' work. The instructors are professional photographers who not only guide us during the workshop but also follow up on questions afterward. They teach us how to tackle difficult and sticky situations and to] be sensitive and respectful working with foreign customs and cultures. The workshop pushes you to think and do more in a week’s time frame.”

Mexican TWAC student Andrea Diaz Hernandez photographs a child learning to use a braille writing machine at Escula Helen Keller in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Workshops begin with a meeting between students, photo coaches and participating NGO and nonprofit directors on a Sunday. Students choose stories of interest related to the various organizational missions and then spend weekdays shooting in the field. Part of each afternoon is spent meeting with coaches, and the entire group meets each evening for critiques. All student work is captured digitally and edited through slide projections. On Friday, students and photo coaches make final selections of their strongest images, which are then produced as exhibition prints through local printing services.

On Saturday afternoon, a public exhibition is held at a local museum, gallery or university exhibition space. The reception brings together students, photo coaches, photographic subjects, participating organizations and U.S. embassy staff as well as local dignitaries and community members. According to Chris Tyree, TWAC’s director, “The Saturday exhibition of student work is simply a moving experience. It’s one of the most poignant moments of the workshop.”

After these workshops, some students maintain contact with the organizations they worked with, which are granted rights to use student images in promotional and educational materials. Joseph Smooke, who participated in a 2009 Guadalajara, Mexico, workshop, says, “I kept in touch with the NGO afterward, writing them letters of support for fundraising and helping them with organizational development issues. Exactly what I had dreamed of—photography opening the door [to the possibility] for community- based NGOs to develop and enhance their amazing work.”

TWAC’s next workshop is scheduled for late May or early June 2013 in Washington, D.C. Tyree anticipates that approximately 25 to 30 students will attend, mostly college students from the United States. Among the instructors invited to participate are photojournalists Lynn Johnson, Karen Kamauski, Ron Londen and Joshua Melzer. Registration for the workshops opens two months in advance, and information can be found on TWAC’s Facebook page and Web site.

Tyree hopes to see Truth with a Camera expand to offer at least two workshops annually—one in the United States and another abroad. He asserts, “This is a labor of love shared by many dedicated individuals.



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