In 2006, the Red Hook Youth Photography Project was developed as a response to community needs in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Over the course of a summer, young people use photography to express their feelings and questions about the world. At the end of the summer, all student portfolios are displayed in a show at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, giving participants an opportunity to be the subject of positive attention from their community.
As a geographically and socially isolated neighborhood, Red Hook has struggled with the absence of many basic services and amenities. For example, local youth and their parents have emphasized the need for more arts programs for young people. At the same time, the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s social workers have identified a need for programs that build self-esteem and enable positive forms of self-expression.
The Red Hook Youth Photography Project was developed in 2006 as a response to this set of needs. Over the course of a summer, young people ages 14 to 18 use photography to express their feelings and questions about the world in which they live. Program participants are trained in the technical elements of photography—camera operation and care, image editing, and photograph printing—and develop visual literacy by identifying and employing composition, framing, symbolism, mood, and gestures in images. At the end of the summer, all student portfolios are displayed in a show at the Justice Center. The display of their work gives participants an opportunity to be the subject of positive attention from their community, according to James Brodick, director of the Justice Center.
Supported by the Edith Glick Shoolman Children’s Foundation, the Youth Photography Project in its first year recruited 10 students to work three days a week for eight weeks. Over the next two years, the program’s capacity will increase to 15 and then 20 students.
The program begins with a 25-hour training that teaches youth appropriate workplace behavior, financial management, conflict resolution, and other skills. Participants receive a small weekly stipend that enables them to make a contribution to family finances and helps them begin to implement some of the financial management skills they have learned.
In 2006, classes were coordinated by a lead teacher Alice Proujansky and assistant Johanna Neufeld, who have extensive experience in arts education with youth from under-resourced areas. “Sharing and discussing their photographs helps young people develop coping behaviors like positive self-expression, constructive risk-taking, and appropriate social participation, while the photography itself provides an alternative way to communicate difficult emotions and ideas,” Proujansky said. Because some topics may spark challenging and deeply personal conversations, a Justice Center social worker participates in some class meetings and activities, and is available to the participants individually as needed. Each participant also has an individual meeting with the teachers and the social worker to identify any services or programs the young person may want or need and to provide appropriate referrals.
The program is designed to have an impact that extends beyond the eight weeks the students spend at the Justice Center. All young people who participate in a Justice Center program have life-long access to the center’s network of partnering agencies and programs, and also become eligible for a variety of services provided by the Justice Center’s Youth Court, including college prep classes and trips, summer internships, and mentoring matches. They also get to keep their digital camera, enabling them to continue their artistic work.
To view photos from the 2006 class, click here.