JOHANNESBURG — There is a growing iniative in Johannesburg, South Africa, that teaches disadvantanged children how to take photographs and sell their prints in high-end parts of the city. The project is called "I was shot in Joburg" -- a word play on the city's violent reputation. The initiative is providing children with a new perspective and is helping to change their lives.
Shooting photographs of people has become a way of life for Pritchard Ndlovu.
Four and a-half years ago, he was living at Twilight Shelter in Hillbrow, one of the most disadvantaged areas of Johannesburg. That's when he met Bernard Viljoen, who enrolled him in his new photography workshop at the shelter.
"Before, I didn't have a vision of photography. I was just in a shelter because I needed maybe to go to school. And after school, I would do something about my life, but I didn't know what. So when Bernard came to the shelter and he introduced photography, that's when I thought, 'Okay, doing things like this in my life maybe can bring some change,'" Ndlovu said.
Viljoen started the workshop four years ago and began with a simple guideline for the teenagers. "I literally said to the guys, 'Take the cameras, walk out the gates, and find beauty where you thought there was none," he said.
In this crime and poverty-ridden neighborhood, Viljoen urged the teenagers to see things in a new way. "I wanted to tell them that with photography, if you see something that you don't like, that does not resonate with you, you just change your eyes and find something else," stated Viljoen.
The challenge intrigued Pritchard Ndlovu. "We had all this life that we were introduced to, a little bit violent and all the stuff. But through photography, we had to see the arty part and be able to meet with people and communicate with people -- get to know about positive things about our city, how to make the place around you a better place," he said.
The project now has its own permanent studio in one of the fanciest places in Johannesburg. The studio employs six former students full-time, including Pritchard, who is now the studio's manager.
"My favorite picture is not mine, but it says something about real life. It's called 'Write the Future.' It says a lot, 'Write the Future.' It's different, inspiring, and makes you curious about what's happening," Ndlovu said. "What will happen tomorrow".
Besides photo prints, the studio sells merchandise made by the teenagers of the Twilight Shelter -- pillows, coasters, refrigerator magnets, cell phone cases -- and the catalog keeps on expanding.
Cathy Williams works for one of the project's sponsoring companies. "For me it was taking street children out of that shelter and giving them an opportunity to earn money. They don't have to be your professors, or your doctors or your lawyers, because not everybody can afford to do that. But by working hard and creating with your hands and getting ideas, you can sell and make money and be productive," Williams said.
The initiative will continue to hold annual exhibits and is now looking at ways to sell the photos and merchandise in retail stores, potentially giving students the chance to start their own businesses.