Small Views of a Big World
by Jennifer Donovan and Kara Sokol
Kurt Paterson has kids all over the little Honduran village of El Porvenir and more in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Not his own, of course—Paterson’s kids are village children whom the assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering equipped with cameras, to capture a kids’-eye view of their world.
“Kids see the world very differently, and their viewpoint isn’t usually heard,” Paterson explains. “I want to give them a voice and see the world through their eyes.” He is doing that through Kid'sView, a nonprofit organization founded by Paterson that is partnering with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to encourage individuals and groups to sponsor a camera.
In July 2007, Paterson and Michigan Tech’s EWB chapter brought the first six inexpensive, one-time-use cameras to Honduras while they were working on a multi-use facility for an orphanage. Most recently, Paterson and his students took twenty more cameras to Bolivia, where they worked on in-home water treatments.
Any passing concern that the children might damage or lose the cameras proved totally unfounded. “We handed out six cameras and got six cameras back, with every frame shot and none damaged,” says Paterson. “I wonder if that would happen with the more-privileged children in the United States.”
The Tech students brought the cameras home and had the pictures developed. They brought photos back to the villages in November for a community exhibition.
Common themes emerged: babies, animals, family, friends. “Photography can help people analyze and comprehend their world,” Paterson explains.
The environmental engineer’s own research at Michigan Tech focuses on air quality and indoor air pollution—considered by the World Health Organization the number one killer of children. But photography has been his hobby ever since his parents put a Kodak Zip camera in his hands on a family trip to Yellowstone National Park when he was ten years old. “I haven’t put it down yet,” he quips, although now it has morphed into a Canon 20D digital camera.
Paterson got the idea for Kid'sView on a visit to his sister in Iowa in 2006. His nephew shot a picture of him with his sister, and “it was a light-bulb kind of moment,” Paterson recalls. “The physical angle of the picture was different, because he is so much smaller than we are, and his viewpoint was entirely different, too.”
Kid'sView photos can be seen at www.kidsview.org, where people can also sign up to sponsor a camera. Interest in the project is escalating as the Rotaract Club of Taichung, Taiwan, engages Taiwanese school children in photographing their everyday lives, and a sixth grade art class at Ontonagon Area Elementary School in Michigan shoots pictures and writes about them in a project called Literacy Through Photography.
Wherever they are shot, these images are giving vision and voice to children.