From the heart of it all

A letter from the perspective of a student and a teacher
Danna, pictured 2nd from right, helps lead students during our follow-up project in NYC. Once a student in the learning center, she is now a confident and respected teacher.

Danna, pictured 2nd from right, helps lead students during our follow-up project in NYC. Once a student in the learning center, she is now a confident and respected teacher.

My name is JP Pullos, and I’m the Photography Education Coordinator for 100cameras. I’m also a professional photographer, and I run a business creating and selling instructional videos for beginner photographers. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I tend to approach everything I’m up to very, very seriously. I’ve always thought of this as a good thing but, since I started teaching kids for 100cameras, I’ve found myself shedding my serious side and approaching my life in a much more playful way. You see, when you find yourself giving a camera to a 14-year old boy or girl who is touching a camera for the very first time and you recognize the bubbling excitement in their eyes, it becomes virtually impossible to not take that sense of wonder and discovery into other areas of your life.

I’ve had many moving experiences since I began teaching for 100cameras but the most profound happened on our third day of teaching classes in Madurai, India. Madurai was one of the locations where we taught kids who were using a camera for the very first time and we were navigating a significant language barrier. Explaining even the basic functions on a camera is hard enough when both teacher and student speak the same language but it really felt impossible since I found myself teaching primarily through pantomime and pointing. I was shocked when two students stopped taking pictures for a moment to show me a handful of functions they had discovered on the cameras we had given them, functions I wasn’t aware of. These kids, through the sheer force of their eagerness to learn and their sense of play, had taken something complicated and had made it very, very simple. Up until that day, I had held words and concepts up as the most important tools available to me as a teacher. Those students taught me that, even in the absence of a shared language, approaching a subject with excitement, playfulness and a willingness to discover was all that was required to learn something new. In fact, our 15 young students in Madurai took far less time to learn and master concepts like exposure, aperture and shutter speed than most adults take to do the same here in New York City, where I teach most weekends. 

I’ve had the opportunity to personally talk with a handful of the kids we’ve taught after a good amount of time had passed since their classes with us. What struck me most was the sense of pride that each of our former students has not only in the images they created but in how much they contributed to their community as a result of the classes. I remember walking into the after-school program center in the Lower East Side to meet the students that had participated in the 100cameras classes years earlier and each of their faces lit up as Angela exclaimed that the money from the sale of their images had gone toward purchasing four desktop computers for the learning center. The kids were proud to have created images that were seen as valuable and, in turn, provided a much-needed resource for their community and peers. 

We exist solely to be a model of empowerment. Take Danna for example, a student from our NYC project. Growing up on the Lower East Side, she comes from a family of nine brothers and sisters. After working hard against many obstacles to pursue her goals to get a college AA degree, she’s currently working at the after-school center and as a paraprofessional in a special needs pre-school while pursuing her career in Early Childhood Education. 

Danna believes 100cameras has shown her how to express her thoughts and emotions and perspective with a different outlet.

I believe my photographs along with my story will help New Yorkers, especially youth, know and understand that while yes we may grow up or live in a neighborhood that is not rich or wealthy, that doesn’t mean that they have to live the rest of their lives in the same circumstances. I can attest to that because I grew up in the same neighborhood as they did, and now I’m in the process of completing my professional goal to become a Pre-School teacher and one day to own my very own Daycare Center.

You see, our photography curriculum is designed to teach photography basics but, more importantly, we leave these young adults with a sense of validation and what might be their first real sense of making a contribution to their respective communities. Creative outlets in any form are important, but 100cameras has built a curriculum that provides so much more. As she does so well, Danna says it best in her words when reflecting on her time in the 100cameras course, 

Photographs can help people see the perspective of others because photos capture what we can miss to see with the naked eye — that we all have emotions, we all have needs, and we all want what’s best for us and our families. It does not matter what part of the world we live in.

This is why we do what we do. And this is why we ask you to come alongside us and join our vision to equip more students like Danna to learn young that their voices matter and that they can help lead change in their circumstances. 

Would you consider giving a gift to 100cameras this year?

There is no amount too great or too small, and your support will go a long ways for us in 2016 to empower more kids worldwide. If you would like more details, you can read what we've been up to and all that is ahead in 2016 at 100cameras.org/2016. Thank you for your support and for considering your gift today. 

We are overwhelmed with gratefulness,

-JP Pullos
Photography Education Coordinator
jp@100cameras.org