Tell us about The Disposable Project. How did it all begin?
I was fortunate enough to have come across the initial opportunity to head out to Tanzania through the Center for Service and Action department at Loyola Marymount University, which I was attending at the time. The purpose of the service trip being to volunteer as a teacher at a local educational program for disadvantaged youth set up by a non-profit. Looking back on this, I’m still super appreciative that I had this life altering opportunity.
Up to that point, my life revolved around photography. Knowing that I wanted to incorporate photography into my life as a profession, I remember exploring the endless worlds within the photo industry, from commercial to fine art. The latter drew my attention. Creating work more in line with fine art, I became fascinated by the idea of public art and civic projects; married couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude, as well as Swoon being artists of interest.
About 2 weeks before I left to Tanzania, I had this seed of an idea to approach photography in a different manner compared to my previous travel experiences. Wanting to share my passion for this craft and knowing that I was going to be working with a specific community, I was hoping to use this cross-cultural experience to see how this was going to affect my interactions and relationships with community members, all the while providing an outlet for the potential photographers.
How were the children who participated selected and did they know anything about photography when they started?
The 9 selected photographers were actually the oldest kids at the school I was volunteering at (Born To Learn). Even though these kids lived in a rural community, there was a decent amount of visual communication to take notice of, from roadside billboards advertising the local cell-phone companies current promotion to screen-printed portraits of Barack Obama, Bob Marley, and Tupac on the minivans that were used as public transportation. Photography was definitely incorporated into different aspects of societal life. Yet, I don’t think there was an awareness of the crafting of photographs.
During the first week of TDP, I distributed 2 cameras to each kid, giving them the chance to familiarize themselves with these objects by shooting whatever they wanted to. Once the children overcame the initial stage of fascination with the technology, I began to cover basic photography concepts, i.e. rule of thirds, backlighting, kissing edges, etc. Mid-project I began to give them more structured assignments, like capturing a portrait of your favorite person in his/her own environment, such as a butcher in a meat shop.
You taught the children photography for 3 months. What did you expect going into this project, and what surprised you at the end of it?
I had no idea what was going to occur going into the project. As the weeks went by, it was quite refreshing to see the students’ fascination with the cameras and their enthusiastic, yet care-free approach to taking photographs. Taking note of their progression, I became increasingly surprised by each of our critiques. I also came to notice a correlation between the personality of the students and the images they produced.
You created a kickstarter to fund the making of a book, featuring 60 photographs made by the children. What was the process of making the book like and why do you feel it was important to create a book at all?
I lucked out by connecting with a terrific book designer who’s actually currently working at TASCHEN. With there being numerous aspects of book-making that I was oblivious of, Jessica Trujillo was a complete pleasure to work with, walking us through the entire process. Unfortunately, the kids couldn’t take part in the process for several reasons, one of them being the timeliness of completing the book in order to provide financial assistance to Born To Learn.
Having the story told through the photo book medium provides an intimate collection of memories the kids chose to document. Even though the young photographers didn’t set out to tell a specific story, when you look at the project as a whole in book form, certain aspects of the culture and values become clear. It’s quite fascinating and something that only the medium could provide.
What’s next for you as a photographer and for The Disposable Project?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to return to Tanzania, but I’m currently working on it. With Tanzania not being too far away from Morocco, I’m planning on heading out to Moshi once my Peace Corps service comes to a wrap, which should coincide with the end of the TDP fundraising campaign (to clarify: the book, along with the prints sold on the website, will only be available for purchase for a limited time of 12 months – until April 6, 2015).
Although I’ve been kept up-to-date through our non-profit partner and a few Tanzanian friends, I really want to see how everything’s coming along with Born To Learn, the kids I worked with, and the community. If I can find the funding, I’m also hoping to bring back a few copies of TDP book to give to the kids that participated. Otherwise, I might produce some sort of photo-zine to give to them.
Raul Guerrero relies on photography, as well as video and related media to explore conceptual projects. He currently works as a Peace Corps Youth Development/Asset Building volunteer in Outat El Haj, Morocco.