Hello, Fresno!

May 5, 2010 § 4 Comments

Joseph Smooke is a photographer. He documents people and programs working to create change in communities. Last year, he submitted a photo essay to PhotoPhilanthropy.

Joseph Smooke on behalf of FM4 Paso Libre

He also teaches photography to a group of young people in Fresno, California.

His students are part of The kNOw Youth Media, an after-school program aimed at building community among youth, improving literacy skills and increasing the quality of life for families in the Central Valley.

Through this project, Joseph Smooke works as a community-based photographer.

“Not only is there not a lot of awareness of what this approach means among photographers,” says Smooke, “but also within the community. There’s not a lot of understanding of the power of photography to tell stories or create change.”

He has been working on this project since 2008. “It’s about trying to build awareness about one’s community through photography,” he says.  “It’s about helping the kids understand their community better, and working to help them realize that their community is different than other places.”

When he first began working with The kNOw, Smooke worried that the students would be jaded about photography. He expected them to take lots of pictures without really thinking about them. But that wasn’t what happened. “They’ve all been doing writing work with The kNOw, so they actually went the other way,” he said. “They thought really hard about what they were doing and only took five or six pictures. So I had to go the other direction, and encourage them to take more photographs.”

They work in teams, and each team picks a subject to focus on: benches, restrooms, stereotypes, agriculture, buildings, neighborhoods. Their learning process is very palpable. Even as I look at the work of Smooke’s students, I can see how their images are evolving, both within the pairs and as a group.

“The thought process is so evident in the pictures—it’s so emotional, and it’s amazing,” says Smooke. “That’s a big reason why I’m going back.”

I asked Joseph’s students (via questionnaire) some questions about what this experience has been like.

Marcus Vega, 20, who did a very moving essay for the winter 2010 edition of The kNOw on being homeless, wrote, “I’ve learned to recognize what others ignore. A new perspective.”

Jaleesa Vickers, 20, wrote, “I have learned that beauty can actually be found all around me, not just in a magazine, or on television.”

Jaleesa also writes poems and features for The kNOw, which is a fantastic publication. I encourage you to request a free copy of the latest edition by emailing Mai Der Vang at mvang@newamericamedia.org.

PhotoPhilanthropy is thrilled to be reaching out to community based photography programs through our inaugural Community Activist Award. I’ll be interviewing participants in Joseph Smooke’s program with The kNOw, to hear more about what it’s like to work with a photographer in this way, so stay tuned for that post. And submissions are now open–we look forward to seeing your work!

The artists featured in the kNOw’s slideshow are: Chanda Clark, Demar Duncan, Gracie Garcia, Meme Garrido, Anna Gil, Miguel Martinez, Kevis McGee, Luis Pacheco, Arena Phaphilom, Angelina Thao, Maria Valdez, Gabby Vang, Yee Leng Vang, Marcus Vega, and Jaleesa Vickers.


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§ 4 Responses to Hello, Fresno!

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