Oaxacan women learn essential photo skills to reframe their lives

Deborah Klochko workshop

Participants of the workshop “¡Rompe las reglas de la foto!” (Break the rules of photography!). Photo by Angie Keller, used with permission.

In Oaxaca, located in Southeastern Mexico, seven out of ten indigenous women live in poverty. In addition, access to education is very limited. On the one hand, women have a prominent role at home from an early age, and on the other, according to federal authorities, local customs push families to keep them from attending school.

With this in mind, the Museum of Photographic Arts, located in California, United States, and the Fondo Guadalupe Musalem, a Mexican non-profit, decided to join forces. Over a weekend in November 2018, 25 young girls learned about photography techniques from MOPA instructors.

Since its creation in 1995, the Fondo Guadalupe has been running educational workshops for young women from indigenous or rural communities, who are awarded scholarships.

Global Voices spoke via email with Deborah Klochko, executive director of the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA).  told us more about the initiative:

Global Voices (GV): What inspired the collaboration between MOPA and the Fondo Guadalupe Musalem?

Deborah Klochko (DK): Supe del Fondo Guadalupe Musalem a través de su instructora de fotografía Marcela Taboada, a quien conocí en un taller que di en Ciudad de México. Me contó sobre su programa e inmediatamente supe que MOPA tenía que formar parte de él. Supimos que éramos una colaboración destinada, al poder usar la fotografía como parte de su travesía.

I found out about the Fondo Guadalupe Musalem through their photography instructor, Marcela Taboada, who I met at a workshop I was running in Mexico City. She told me about her program and I knew straight away that MOPA had to be part of it. We knew that we were destined to be a partnership, being able to use photography as part of their journey.

GV: Could you tell us more about the workshop that has been given to the girls as part of this initiative?

DK: El taller se llama ¡Rompe las reglas de la foto! Haciendo uso de un modelo interactivo, la instructora de MOPA Maria Rios-Mathioudakis y las alumnas del Fondo trabajaron en equipo para identificar las reglas fotográficas para después adrede romperlas. Las alumnas identificaron más de 15 reglas, como por ejemplo, el cuidado que se le da a una foto impresa para no deteriorarla, enmarcar y colgar fotos en una pared para ser mostradas, etcétera.

En equipo o en pares, las alumnas se propusieron a romper las reglas que identificamos, tomando fotos, imprimiéndolas e interviniendo en el proceso. Estas intervenciones se dieron cuando crearon su propio collage (recortando sus imágenes y reconstruyendo una sola imagen con los recortes), creando siluetas, escribiendo sobre las imágenes con plumones (varias hicieron esto es su idioma natal), y creando perfiles de sus compañeras (al estilo de David Hockney [pintor británico] y Joyce Neimanas [fotógrafa estadounidense]). Este estilo juega con su percepción de su espacio ya que presenta una representación compleja del sujeto.

DK: The workshop is called “Break the rules of photography!”. Making use of an interactive model, the MOPA instructor, Maria Rios-Mathioudakis, and the students of the Fondo work as a team to identify the rules of photography in order to purposely break them after. The pupils identified more than 15 rules, for example, the care that's given to a printed photo so as not to damage it, framing and hanging photos on a wall to be displayed, etc.

In a group or in pairs, the students set out to break the rules that we identified, taking photos, printing them, and intervening in the process. These interventions were used when they created their own collage (cutting up their images and reconstructing one single image with the cuttings), making shapes, writing on their images with markers (some did this in their mother tongue), and making outlines of their classmates (in the style of David Hockney [British painter] and Joyce Neimanas [American photographer]. This style plays with their perception of space as it shows a complex representation of the subject.

GV: Do you have any particular story about the girls taking part that you'd like to share with our readers?

DK: Recibimos a un grupo increíble de jóvenes talentosas. El taller comenzó a las 10 a.m. y termino a la 6:30 p.m. A esta hora las alumnas nos pidieron más tiempo para trabajar en sus proyectos. En todos mis años dando clases, me he encontrado con un joven o dos con el mismo tipo de motivación que vi en cada una de nuestras 25 alumnas. Fue un grupo que escarbó profundo y creó muy buen trabajo. Estuvieron presentes, fueron críticas, trabajaron en equipo y rompieron las reglas (de la mejor manera posible).

DK: We had an amazing group of talented young women. The workshop started at 10 am and ended at 6.30 pm. At this point the students asked us to give them more time to work on their projects. In all my years teaching, I had only come across one or two young people with such motivation that all of these 25 young women had. They went really deep and created very good work. They had presence, they thought critically about their work, they acted as a team and they broke the rules (in the best way possible).

Guadalupe Musalem - Klochko - Oaxaca

Deborah Klochko (on the left) leads the training workshops as part of the collaboration with the Fondo Guadalupe Musalem. Photograph by Angie Keller, used with permission.

GV: How does this teaching experience compare to others you have taken part in previously?

DK: El grupo también fue de varias maneras parecido a los que nos encontramos en los Estados Unidos. Son mujeres jóvenes que están muy bien conectadas a las culturas globales que encuentran a través del internet: YouTube, Anime e Instagram en sus smartphones. También están muy abiertas a aprender a utilizar nuevas herramientas, aplicaciones y filtros

DK: In some ways, this group was similar to those who we have had in the United States. They are young women who are very well connected to the global cultures they find on the internet: YouTube, Anime and Instagram on their smartphones. They are also very open to learning how to use new tools, applications and filters

GV: What about Oaxaca?

DK: Oaxaca es una región que valora la cultura y el arte. No hay por qué tratar de convencer a alguien de que este aspecto en su cultura les es importante. El arte es asombroso, y constantemente están organizando eventos de arte en parques públicos, en la esquina de la calle, en galerías y en museos. Fue encantador poder ser parte de todo.

DK: Oaxaca is a region which values culture and art. There's no need to try and convince someone that this aspect of culture is important to them.The art scene is incredible, they are constantly organising art events in public parks, on the corner of the street, in galleries and museums. It was lovely to be part of it all.

GV: Do you have anything else to add?

DK: La fotografía es un medio universal y es por esto que nuestros programas llevan un impacto global. Estas iniciativas sólo son posibles gracias a la generosidad de nuestros contribuyentes y patrocinadores.

DK: Photography is a universal medium. That's the reason behind the global impact of our programs, which can only be only be possible thanks to the generosity of our patrons and collaborators.

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