The Diversity Through The Lens photography project promotes cross-cultural exchange in Melbourne’s west. SEZ WILKS stopped by a workshop to preview new work by Brimbank’s community photographers.
What do diversity and harmony look like? The question is front of mind for 12 Brimbank residents who are using photography to connect with their city’s human and geographic identity.
The group have come together for Diversity Through The Lens, a project training Brimbank’s new arrival migrants and refugees to use a digital camera, while improving their English language skills and social connection. The project is run by Jesuit Social Services’ Settlement Program and funded by Brimbank City Council’s Community Grants Program.
The series of six photography workshops will culminate in a photo exhibition at Brimbank’s Sunshine Library, launched on Harmony Day, Tuesday 21 March 2017, as part of Cultural Diversity Week.
A glimpse inside a recent workshop reveals a picture of focus. In a classroom at Sunshine’s VISY Cares Hub, participants take it in turns to present their latest images, guided by Brad Axiak of Deakin University’s Media and Arts team. The group is supportive, the critique friendly, and the quality of images impressive.
Tadros, from Egypt, is up first. His photos are projected life-size on a screen at the front of the class and people lean in, intrigued. The images catch the bustle of a local marketplace, and Sunshine’s landmark cow statue. As others look at his work, Tadros reflects on the balance between intuition and technical skill. He sees this as a kind of harmony within the creative process.
“Harmony means we fit together with things,” he explains. “You feel it, and the shots choose themselves, but you have to look, to see, too.”
The group are training their eyes on harmony and cultural diversity, choosing an array of subjects to express their connection to Brimbank. Rehan, from Kenya, is exploring the themes through movement.
“People and transport are icons of Brimbank. I take photos of trains on the bridge going past, and also many people in the marketplace walking past. It shows how busy the neighbourhood is.”
Others are working with cityscapes and reflections, using interesting framing to flaunt the formal rules of composition they’ve learned in previous workshops. And as their confidence grows, they’re also shooting portraits of people.
Trinh, from Vietnam, shares a moment of joy when she photographed a young girl at a drinking tap.
“She asked what the photo was for. I told her and she was happy.”
Boman, from Afghanistan, describes a similar experience taking a photo of a man at a café.
“I asked permission to take his photo, and he became happy. I said, ‘Can you have your drink in it as well?’ and he said yes.”
For Nicole Attard, project coordinator and Settlement Program support worker, seeing participants relate with fellow Brimbank community members is the heart of the project.
“I want diversity to be an experience, not a label we use to describe ourselves.”
With each exchange, participants are single-handedly creating links across Brimbank’s diverse communities. They’re also strengthening their English and technical skills, which many hope will provide pathways to further study or employment.
For Trinh, developing her digital camera skills has given her confidence to consider a career in photography.
“I love taking photos. When I go out with friends, I take lots of photos on my phone. But before I didn’t understand it, what it means. I’m really happy with this class, and I feel good, because I can see what [Brad] means. Now I can understand this more complex camera and I know how to frame the picture. Maybe I can get a job after this class.”
For Boman, learning how to compose photos has helped him promote his work as an artist.
“I’m a painter, and it’s difficult to take photos of the exact colour and tone of the painting. Before, I didn’t know how to carry a camera, or about ‘portrait, landscape’. Now I can take photos of my paintings to show people my work. It’s exciting.”
Ruq, from Malaysia, finds in photography a sense of wellbeing, and says the classes have boosted her creative confidence.
“When I take photos, I feel at peace. I find it relieving, relaxing. I’d like to be good at it.
“I feel when I’m taking photos that it’s not really good, but when the photo comes out I think, ‘It’s really not bad’. I’ve learned people can see one photo in many different ways.”
Clearly, exchange is happening within the classroom, too. The group feel comfortable swapping opinions, and when they break for morning tea it’s to share a spread of food from all over the world.
Workshop coordinator Brad is excited by the work that’s coming through, and says participants’ photos are showing him “the beauty in things we wouldn’t normally look at”.
Now that’s something worth seeing.