15 years of Stories Portrayed by their Protagonists
by Daniela Lucena
1. It is Saturday morning. A group of girls and boys arrives at Centro Conviven located in the neighborhood of Villa Lugano in the City of Buenos Aires. There awaits the photography workshop that PH15 Foundation has been running uninterruptedly for 15 years. They are not the first ones to live this experience. Many young people from Villa 15, which begins (or ends?) opposite Centro Conviven, went through that space to learn how to take photos and look at their reality through the lens of a camera. During the last military dictatorship in 1978, the military government built a wall so that the tourists would not see the neighborhood; since then Villa 15 has been known as "Hidden City". Perhaps the cameras will uncover a bit of what is often ignored, stigmatized or excluded. Perhaps it is photography that will restore a view of those who still live behind the wall.
2. “Ph15 gave us cameras and rolls of film, tools that we turned towards serving our passions. What mattered were our emotions, it was just us, without techniques limiting us in the search for a personal language. Then came the exhibitions and the trips, we went into the unknown, expanded our limits and enjoyed the new and uncertain, everything we aspired to and were able to reach. Ph15 was not just a theory or a script, it was real, and we managed through the Foundation to become the protagonists of that reality and our lives.” Those are the words of Nahuel Alfonso, former participant of the workshop of Hidden City. Today, Nahuel works as a photographer.
3. PH15 Foundation believes in art as a tool for transformation. In workshops, photography is the privileged instrument of creation, communication, and connection with others. Work is group-oriented and collaborative: taking photographs, viewing them, critiquing and editing them together. Workshop facilitators and participants alike share knowledge about technique and the use of the camera. What is brought into play here is something else. With different biographies and cultural backgrounds, what gathers us is the desire to learn and share a part of life together.
4. The experience of the workshops is replicated every year in different communities in Argentina. What started as a workshop in Hidden City is today an organization capable of generating creative learning spaces in 11 provinces in Argentina. The work to achieve this result was difficult. Managing such a project demands a lot of energy, patience and commitment. Keeping up with the growing number of workshop participants, the PH15 team has also grown, matured and mutated all these years. In this exhibition, we can observe a part of this invigorating journey. However, the values that guide the Foundation programs remain immutable: collaborative work, participatory classes, respectful criticism and joint creation are the basis behind workshops.
5. Perhaps it is the power of creation, as a liberating human act that allows us to externalize our being, which turns art into an instrument for change. Or perhaps it is the confidence in an aesthetic practice that in the doing humanizes us, even in adverse circumstances. What is clear is that this work is about art beyond its limits. It is an overflowed art, dislocated from established compartments. An art that seeks to go through the walls of institutions and common senses that automate our daily life. It is this, and no other art, that can provide the impulse for individual and collective transformation.
6. “The truth is that I was always a person interested in photography, but only when I had it in my hands. Like a baby photo or something. I never thought there was so much more in an image, in a photographer. […] The images by Gianni Bulacio helped me to notice this, because they showed me a complete different look of what I had already seen, what I had been seeing all these years (during which I have been paying more attention to my “jujeña” culture). It was as if I was seeing Casabindo, Tinku and Via Crucis for the first time. From a new gaze, from the eyes of another person. And I come to the hasty conclusion that every photograph is a new, newborn digital fingerprint. Thank you.” Kevin Ángelo wrote this message; he is currently taking part in the workshop in Palpalá, Jujuy. He sent this thank you e-mail to his workshop facilitator, after a class.
7. Perhaps it is the possibility of seeing things differently which makes photography a tool for change. When the photographer’s perspective is altered, there is suddenly new meaning in the surroundings. The world becomes moveable. Daily reality is not fixed, but malleable. Finding the cracks for new stories to surface and destabilize what surrounds us is the key to renewing and recreating a world that, before, was taken as given and unchanging.
8. “I felt I could express myself without asking anybody to listen to me. The photos were the ones that listened to me… I walked alone in the lonely walkways and began to take photos... I remember I liked taking photos on rainy days and especially how the neighborhood and the walkways looked after the rain. And what was something ugly for everybody, flooded streets; I saw it as something beautiful... I focused on reflections, I loved them. And from something ugly or bad, I liked to get something cute; I would see it as if it were a painting. I would look at the photo in my mind and then I would take the pictures. My time in PH15 is full of beautiful memories, where there were no teachers and students, we all learned from everyone”. Gabriela Godoy tells me this via chat, when I ask her what memories she has of her time in PH15. She graduated from the workshop in Hidden City in 2006.
9. Since 2000, 1,819 participants took part of the workshops of PH15 Foundation. During this period, 120 exhibitions were organized and displayed in Argentina, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Around 3,500 spectators were able to see the works of the young people who take and took part of the workshops. The member of the Foundation also shared their experiences and ways of work in more than 40 seminars, talks, news stories and conferences. Currently, a team of 20 people carries out the programs of the organization, providing with their knowledge and will to do in different areas and roles, ranging from photographic expression to the cumbersome bureaucratic management of each initiative.
10. As we look towards the future, the question arises: How can we continue to grow without losing track of the Foundation’s fundamental inspiration from fifteen years ago — to create and maintain a place where art can support change in a systematic and programmatic way. The challenge is to find ways to support the imagination of youth which invigorates the world through their stories and experiences, and which, through their insight and creativity, give new meaning to the daily construction of life.