Photography As Activism, Photography As Self-Care

Young people are incredibly resilient, creative beings and they are often surrounded by enormous violence and are inundated by toxic messages.

The arts play a huge role in healing and creating a safe space for young people to talk about the everyday violence they experience as well as past traumas, and we should be investing more time and resources into providing these spaces for our young people. Leave Out Violence (LOVE) is a non-profit organization that works with NYC youth who have been affected by violence to create positive change in their lives and become leaders among their peers and in their communities. We do this by providing safe settings, media arts training, social and emotional learning, and leadership development opportunities.  I was able to marry my social justice work and my love and talent for photography in this role, and I hope to spread the word about the important work our young people do.

As the Program Director for the past 4 years, I have worked with and supported youth to heal from serious trauma, questions societal norms, and find a voice when they are told not to have one. We run highly innovative media arts projects and anti-oppression workshops to stimulate their imaginations, challenge the status quo, and empower youth to publish and display their work for the world to see. I have the privilege of mentoring our youth to bring their photography projects and life goals to fruition. I love photography, I love the kids I work with you, and it’s really the best part of what I do.

I encourage them to develop photo essays that illustrate the realities of their lives, truths and communities. Youth develop and produce beautiful, moving photography essays, speaking out and raising awareness on the issues that affect them deeply: self-harm, domestic and dating violence, feeling marginalized, gentrification, homophobia, and pressures to be perfect. It is incredibly rewarding to watch young people fall in love with photography, using visual expression when words fail them. We have supported youth to pursue photography internships, scholarships, and eventually degrees in college. All of our photo exhibits have been hugely successful, bringing in packed venues, and most importantly, affirming the youth’s talents and lived experiences by hanging their photos on gallery walls for the community to see. We have exhibited in venues such as the world-renowned Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Christie’s Auction House. Our shows communicate messages of non-violence, hope and inspiration.

Photography is activism, but it is also self-care. Working to reduce violence is painful and exhausting, and photography is healing in that it allows me to capture beauty in the world. I encourage my youth to seek that same healing. Photography is critical to my sanity and well-being because it reminds me there are so much worth capturing and document, given how much ugliness and violence we work against. I get lost with my camera for hours, and I emerge refreshed and rejuvenated.  It is also a form of self-care to claim a voice where it is routinely fallen on deaf ears. Women and people of color are grossly under represented in the art world and in most professional photography roles. In both my work at LOVE, and in my own photography, I work to break down those barriers down one photo at a time.

LOVE envisions a more peaceful society shaped by the creative, intellectual and emotional strength of young people. We hope that our youth movement continues to grow and gain speed, and I encourage you to learn more about it. For more information on how you can support youth working to reduce violence in their lives and communities, please visit the Leave Out Violence site: leaveoutviolence.org and for my photography: ericareadeimages.com

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Brooklyn

A Canadian-born New Yorker, I work with youth in the social justice movement and I am a photographer.

Photographer and youth worker.

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