The hard facts first, then excerpts from my journal:
In January 2008, I offered 4 – 3-hour sessions of photography to an average of about 5 students, and 4 – 2-hour sessions of writing to about the same number. Overall I’d conclude the workshops were moderately successful, helping some, perhaps frustrating others.
Staff support was exceptional, beginning with Amal and Ibrahem, and most directly Mosab who was a consistent help and presence. Ehap and Issam pitched in. Without them the workshops might have failed completely.
One major problem was timing. This was exam period and I believe many felt stressed. Perhaps because my entrance into Gaza was not guaranteed—despite having a permit—I felt there had not been much preparation for my workshop, such as publicizing and recruiting. Summer or during the school semester well before exams may have been better times for the workshops.
The main theme was producing materials so the outside world could comprehend better what is happening in Gaza . I emphasized this over and over. We’ll see how effective it was.
One big unknown is how to follow up from these workshops. Maybe the idea of forming photography and writing units from coaches is a good idea. It needs much work to succeed.
Now for some very personal remarks, excerpts from my journal:
The photography workshop’s second session went surprisingly well. About 8 attended, a few had dropped, a few had joined (including Adham’s friend the singer and actor), all had cameras, most were on time, they worked hard, some taking notes. It was a very productive session, contrasting sharply with the day before when most came late and only one had a camera.
I outlined the principles I follow to make a decent photo: see, light, position, time, design, again and again, and then did it twice with their participation, photographing in the room ideas they had, putting it all up on the screen thanks to a video projector. We had a second look at menus and settings, with most finding what I talked about. They then tried it out in the office, all the principles and menu items. Thanks to a suggestion, I discovered we could look at most photos just made by hooking the camera to the projector. Works only on some cameras, not the cheapest ones which lack the proper port.
We began by reviewing photos brought in by Ahmed, very expert photos, of his home. That was the first assignment. Only he had photos. Others pleaded power outage. I had experimented with the printers and made a small set from the hospital, roof of Adham’s home, and out the window. We discussed approaches, styles, techniques. This set the stage for the later instruction and was effective I thought.
Our second try out was outside, on a clear cold day, with the objective of again practicing what we’d discussed, the principles, use of camera, settings, etc. Followed by a small group of students, I inquired about the water streaming down one lane of the road. Strolling east we discovered a pipe in the intersection was spewing out water, whether fresh or sewerage I’m not sure, I suppose fresh since it looked like a watering pipe. The fountain impeded traffic. Many of us photographed this. Then some of us wandered toward the universities and eventually went inside and photographed the director of the library. Thanks to Rawand who is translating, a spunky woman I met last year, with excellent English and a high spirit (tending to be giggly), we were able to get in. She teaches there as a professor’s assistant, a paid position in the English dept.
The director, a grizzled man about my age, short, stout, missing a number of teeth, insisted on giving us-me a discourse about current politics. He waxed emotional. He became problematic. I listened respectfully for about 5 minutes than interrupted with a request to photograph him. Others had already been doing this, freed from the obligation to listen. Here also is a good reason to be with someone else when photographing: the subject speaks to the other person, the photographer is then free to photograph.
Their project ideas included kids during vacation, water, fishing industry, and kids smiling in the midst of despair. I noticed that 4 had chosen to photograph some aspect of water, and wonder, is this partly my influence?
A joyful and effective session it was, we’ll see about today.
—January 13, 2008
Teaching photography, the third session, went poorly in that only 4 of the 8 arrived, one an hour late, leaving 1/2 hour early for work. All had photos from their projects and the assignment, only a few were printed. We looked at photos connected from the camera into the projector onto the screen, which is proving an invaluable technique. I might try it for my home workshops. This provides the feel of finished prints—on a large screen—before any alteration and as if a contact sheet since we see everything except what the photographer might have deleted in camera.
Mostly we discussed their photos and mine. I demonstrated how to do minimal alteration with a PC program called ACDSEE which I think is common to PC’s. Then outside for the last 1/2 hour for what I planned to be experimentation with some of the teaching inside, about when to use Program, Time Value, Aperture Value, and Manual. Two students seemed bewildered by this assignment—use TV or time value or shutter priority for stopping fast motion and blurring motion (one didn’t even have these options on his camera, all cameras are brutally rudimentary, reflecting the sorry conditions of Gaza) and AV or aperture priority (having tried to explain about depth of focus by demonstrating it which I believe worked) to experiment with the difference between foreground focus and background blur—but I asked only the more advanced student, Ahmed, to do this.
Today we’ll hear from Amal about the Quaker website, with a demonstration of it. I requested all students bring in a folder of their selected digital files on a CD or USB memory device so we can collect and later use their photos. I’ve been pinning up printed selections as they come in, onto a bulletin board in the main hall, hoping to inspire them to produce.
I’d conclude at this stage that the workshop had severe problems, I tried my best, a few of the students did as well, exams impinged. The workshop series turns out to be a revealing test case of the siege—destroying motivation and opportunity.
—January 14, 2008
The first session of the writing workshop went decently: 4 of the enrolled 10 attended, one late by about 30 minutes. All but one had good English. I’m more relaxed about the schedule and attendance than with the photography group, bending more to the situation. Rose was there, who I’d met last year, a very good and highly motivated writer of poetry. A black woman, Samra (which is a contraction of the Arabi word for black) also seems promising. Rawand is a definite plus. Ibrahem gave a spirited introduction to several relevant websites. I hope this will inspire them to write for web publication.
At my suggestion they used free writing to draft a story about something that touched them deeply, that indicated some part of their reality living in Gaza, and that was written as if a journal, no worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. I wrote about hearing the explosion and intend to finish it this morning and print it for others to read.
Since it was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday yesterday I put up his quote, Silence is betrayal, which is also on my lapel pin. I asked them first, do you know the word betrayal? Rawand did and explained it to others in Arabi. Most interpreted it as we need to speak our truth, despite the costs. Which is close enough.
I felt this was a good start, Rawand promised the others would arrive today, not needing to take exams.
—January 16, 2008
Once again the erratic nature of the context—electricity and attendance mostly—forced improvisation. The four students, including Ibrahem, worked hard at their writing, offering thoughtful commentary on each other’s work. One of our main topics at this third session was interviewing, designing a set of questions that will elicit a story from another person and finding ways to craft the writing to tell a broader story, one that includes the interviewer’s story and appeals to a wider audience.
Personally, I found the criticism of my story about Ibrahem dismaying and daunting, also very helpful. I used most of the comments to finish and post this story on my blog. I hope others have discovered equally beneficial effects of the workshop.
—January 18, 2008
A writing sample (unedited):
By Samher Abu Daher
Every day we meet new people, every day we see new faces, but the question is all people we had met or all faces we had seen consider friends??
Absolutely not, the famous Arabic saying state that “it is difficult to get friend, but it is too easy to lost him” .Actually I do not totally agree with this saying, this time iam sure it is diffirent because I get him quickly, when I met him for the first time I knew he is my friend, yes he will be my friend. Do you believe that friend from the first meeting, may be because he is really different he is especial guy, shady his name is shady.
Shady is tall and thin, he has black hair I loved his glasses, he is a symbol of love, innocence and courageous. He is kind, quite, lunatic, and cute, No it is not words in paper it is him.
The first meeting, we did many things together we were a couple, laughing, planting, digging even we stole two flowers together.
In fact, I have many memories which remind me always with shady, when I fell, when we planted, when the car broken down, every moment we were together. I remember when we were in school and supposed to plant flowers, shady and me started planting near a class , the teacher was explain about negros and their characteristics ,”Negros people have big noses and wide lips…..”Shady loo;ed at me and yelled “samra they talk about your relatives” no comments.
In addition to , we were on El Montar mountain I tried to climb a little hill I fell down , he laughed at me loudly then he decided to help me , honestly I was too mad at him. If he had been here now , I would not have be mad at hime again..
Till this line shady is alive, he still alive even that new informed me he is not alive any more, I did not believe that and told my self it is not shady who I know , there are many shadys but not him, I tried to phone him many times but no answer , iam worry now but iam sure it is not him .
Three days later, my cousin who study in Al Azhar university where is shady did , came and said “it is truth” , sorry what you talking about ? shady is killed , I replyed no thing just one cold tear and a lot of anger .
Why did shady die ? who is killer ? who is the responsible ?where is my friend? ..many questions , no answers, but I know one thing shady must not die he do not deserve that………..
Photo by Sohail Albes
Photo by Ibrahim Khalil
Photo by Ahmed Abu Sall