The Giving Lens: Helping Young Photographers Find Their Vision in Nicaragua

Professional Photographer and Photo Educator Colby Brown is the founder and driving force behind The Giving Lens. Each year, this organization strives to make a difference in growing communities through education and training. Today’s guest blogger is Kate Havercroft, world traveler, writer, and Op Man at The Giving Lens. She shares her experiences from their most recent trip to Nicaragua, where her team joined forces with a local non-profit (and SmugMug) to give photographic vision to a class of Granada’s most creative young students.

Are you interested in empowering yourself – and others – through giving and education? Keep reading for more info about future workshops through The Giving Lens.

by Kate Havercroft

There is so much to take in when strolling up Calle La Libertad in Granada, Nicaragua; the colours, smells, and movement of life in this colonial city is exhilarating. But now there is a new sight to see: a gallery, featuring work by photographers as young as eleven.

The gallery is run by Empowerment International, a local non-profit whose ultimate goal is to end poverty in Nicaragua through child education. They work one-on-one with families doing home visits, as well as run a tutoring center. Another amazing thing they do is run several clubs that keep the kids involved and connected. One of those clubs is focused on photography, which has been running for nearly five years. The kids are so talented that Kathy Adams – the founder and operator of EI – decided she needed to open up a gallery. This would open another door into the community, be a source of pride for the students, and maybe, hopefully, provide a bit of money for the program.

Prints are hard to come by in Nicaragua, especially the high-end kind EI was looking for. And then there was the issue of how to get prints to tourists or buyers: how would they get the print home safely and without wrecking it? This is where SmugMug stepped in and solved both problems. They donated prints for EI to hang, so buyers could stroll in and take a look. Then SmugMug set them up with their own website, where they could display their work, set their prices, and where buyers could log on, buy the print, and have it turn up at their doorstep in perfect condition.

I happened to be there when we unpacked the prints for the first time. I am the Operations Manager for an organization called The Giving Lens, founded by landscape and humanitarian photographer Colby Brown. The Giving Lens is where travel, photography, and giving back all come together. The main way we do this is by partnering with an NGO in a developing nation, and bringing a team of photographers to that nation to volunteer their creative skills in a tangible way. When not volunteering, we run workshops in some pretty amazing locations, and when it’s all over, we donate more than half of the profits back to the NGO, making our trips win-win all around.

This July we took two teams to Nicaragua to work with EI’s photography club, spending our days on photowalks with their fifteen or so students, paired up and shooting away. Despite language barriers, heat, and the occasional downpour, the students and TGL participants bonded immediately and deeply. From sunrises over lagoons, to sunsets over volcanoes, to a very meaningful morning documenting the families getting ready for the day, we had the kids up at the crack of dawn and out way past their bedtime. I think that goes to show just how serious they are about their photography, which was inspiring to all of us. It was during this trip that the prints from SmugMug arrived.

EI’s amazing staff, as well as three of our volunteers from the first team, unrolled and mounted each photo, carefully and tearfully sealing them up in frames, our hearts aching with pride at the work of these amazing children we’d come to know and love. The EI Staff has known the children for years, and has watched them grow. While we had only just arrived, we’d learned quickly just how many setbacks they face each and every day – and yet here was their work, the vivid colours and sharp details gleaming out from the metallic prints, giving them creditability as the emerging artists we know they are.

Our second team had the task of hanging the prints on the wall. With nails between our teeth and some long-winded debates about which photos and where, we hammered and hung, debated and danced. When the final picture was hung, both our team and the EI Staff were left mostly speechless. It looked like a real gallery. While the kids have been photographing with EI for years, and while Kathy has run fundraisers featuring the students’ work in both Nicaragua, and the USA, this was different. Obviously the appropriate response was a dance party.

Not long after our teams departed – more like were forcefully torn away by a pesky thing called “a flight home” – Kathy and the EI Staff hosted the official opening of the gallery on July 22nd. About 50 people came from the local community to celebrate the students, their art, and the amazing work EI is doing, and has been doing for a long time, in Nicaragua.

If you’re interested in taking a trip with us at The Giving Lens, we ‘d love to hear from you! The rest of our 2012 trips are sold out, but we will be doubling the amount of trips we offer in 2013 – adding new locations, projects, and adventures around the world.

First up will be going back to Nicaragua in February 2013 and we’re taking your applications right now. From home or on the road – Join us!

Photos Courtesy of Michael Bonocore and Kathy Adams 

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

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