Finding their photovoices

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July 2, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Maggie Kane
Maggie Kane

// Youth photographers depict the impact of violence and hope for peace //



Picturing Peace, a photo project that addresses the issue of youth violence, recently began its community outreach initiative, kicking off the youth art exhibit’s library tour and launching an all-ages photo contest.


The Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Services and the Downtown Improvement District (DID) teamed up to coordinate the project with support from the Division of Indian Work (DIW), the North Community YMCA, Community Blueprint, Clean Slate Group and Hennepin County Libraries.


Alyssa Banks, the youth violence prevention coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, wanted to promote youth involvement in Blueprint for Action. The initiative looks to address youth violence using a public health strategy that addresses all facets of the issue within communities. Beth Shogren, acting Chief Operating Officer of the DID, wanted to find artwork to

put on the downtown utility boxes in an effort to discourage graffiti.


The result of their collaboration is the photo exhibit of youth work on tour through November and photographs for 12 utility boxes.


Teen participants from the DIW and the North Community YMCA participated in five photo workshops over the course of two months to help guide their photo work.


“What’s great about the project is that it wasn’t just focusing on violence, it was talking about peace,” said Marisa Carr, who works with the youth from the DIW. “It’s easy to kind of place all young people in certain communities under this umbrella of violence and not look at the assets and positive things.”


The young photographers used “photovoice,” a technique that engages marginalized populations to express vital issues in their own voices.


“Photovoice really helps to build capacity by teaching community members a skill,” Banks said.


Participants received cameras and guiding questions and set out to photograph images of peace and violence within their communities.


“They were going to develop their eye, or their lens,” said Nicole Randolph, director of the North Community YMCA Youth and Teen Enrichment Center. “I had never experienced [a situation] where young people could so easily and quickly create their own visions.” 


Jerrell Stafford, a 16-year-old photographer from the North Community YMCA, said he decided to participate in the project to see if he could make a change. Stafford had an interest in cameras but little experience using them.


A fellow North Community YMCA photographer, Shadesha Jackson, 14, said the youth from the YMCA worked both in groups and alone to capture images.


The photographers were also the curators for the resulting exhibit, which opened at city hall in early June. They considered all of the photos taken and selected the ones that best displayed the impact of violence in communities and positive steps toward promoting peace, Jackson said.


“A peace sign is not the only thing that can represent peace,” she said.


Stafford was surprised at the reception his photos received when the exhibit opened.


“I was actually shocked that so many people would like my photos,” he said. “It just feels real good to be acknowledged as something greater than an ordinary person because that’s what I always strive to be: extraordinary.”


The youth were not as involved in choosing photos for the utility boxes due to the unique demands of printing and wrapping the images.


“No utility box in Minneapolis is the same, we’re learning,” said Banks. “You’re working with this interesting metal box that’s got all these weird shapes and quirks to it.”


Shogren said they considered the resolution and orientation of the images when selecting photos for the boxes. The images also needed to resonate clearly for viewers.


Stafford did not anticipate Shogren and her team would choose a particular photo of his, a set of hands clasped in a circle, to feature on a box.


“It looked great,” he said. “I was actually kind of surprised.”


Shogren said the initial displays served to start a conversation in communities about violence. Now Picturing Peace wants to directly involve other people in the initiative.


An open photo competition asks community members to add to the work the youth started. People of all ages from across the area are invited to submit photographs.


Banks said the competition is an opportunity to inspire people to take action in their communities. 


“What we’re trying to do is to get people thinking about communities of peace,” Shogren said.


“I think we need to have a vision for where we want Minneapolis to go,” she said. “We are seeing changes and I think we need to celebrate those changes but also think about that vision.”


A panel made up of representatives from the DID, the City of Minneapolis, community members and the Minneapolis Arts Commission, as well as some of the youth, will jury the competition, Banks said. The submission deadline is August 10.


The Picturing Peace website will feature the winning photos, which will also be included in the fall leg of the touring exhibit. Select photos will also be displayed on utility boxes. 




For information about the contest, visit The website also has the library tour schedule and a map of the downtown Minneapolis utility box display.


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