Reflections on Documentary Making

By Andrea Patiño 

It’s hard to believe that ten months have passed already and that my time as a Hine Fellow has come to an end. As I reflect on the experience of working full-time producing documentary work, I can say that this has been a profoundly rewarding year, full of learning experiences, the discovery of new places, and the formation of new and invaluable relationships.

Editing was a particularly interesting phase of the project, as I had to condense over 20 hours of footage into 20 minutes of film. This is the first time that I engaged in a project this long and interacted with my subjects for months. Consequently, I got to know them very well and became quite close to some. This certainly put more pressure on me during the editing phase when I was choosing what to include and what to leave out. How did my personal relationship with them alter my view of them? What elements influenced my decisions to include certain scenes that portrayed them in particular ways, as opposed to other ones that may have given my viewers a different impression? How did my choices of using certain music at certain times affect the overall mood of the films?

These are all questions that I had contemplated in the past, but having to think about them as I produced my work was especially thought-provoking. Representing others is a complicated matter and the lines between “objectivity” and “subjectivity” are oftentimes—if not always—rather blurry. The question of objectivity while documenting has always fascinated both documentarians and viewers. The popular belief tells us that documentaries should, at all costs, portray the truth. But what does that really mean? Documentary makers have certainly moved past the question to explore this issue in more realistic ways: from films that consider intimate family stories to ones where the process of documenting is part of the film, the genre has evolved to convey that the process of documenting human experiences and relationships—both with each other and with the world around us—is equally complicated.

Although I decided to stick to a more traditional way of documentation for this particular project—partly because I was producing work that will be used by a non-profit organization—I considered all these questions very seriously during the entirety of the process. After all these months I can only say, with more conviction than ever, that the importance of documentary work is infinite, not only because documentaries are an important vehicle of information and knowledge, but also because they allow us to examine ourselves and at the communities with which we work in the process.

*You can check out all the work that I created for Raw Art Works at www.rawchiefs.org.

 

They grow up so fast

By Cameron Zohoori

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Parenthood is not something I think about much on a daily basis. I’m able to make day-to-day decisions without regard to children or other dependents. But for many of the youth at UTEC, parenting is a normal part of their lives. More of the young people I have spent time with than not are parents. Some had their first child as young as 16, and in many cases their children are now a driving force behind their presence at UTEC.

In the past several weeks, I have spent a lot of time with a group of young men from the building trades work crew here at UTEC, accompanying them in their workdays and listening to their stories. Too often the stories are of childhoods that didn’t last long enough; of parents that were not present, or didn’t provide the support necessary for their children to succeed. But a common and remarkable thread has emerged. Many of these young men are also young fathers, driven to transform their lives and give their children a future they perhaps never envisioned for themselves.

Remarking on many of these young parents, UTEC transitional coach Tom Sun says, “When you have children either it changes you completely or you’re just completely pushed away. It’s never really in between. The father that embraces their children and accepts that responsibility…that’s your foundation, that gives you that drive.” And Geoff Foster, Associate Director of Political Action, says there can be even more significant changes in outlook for young fathers. “You see it a lot when our young men have kids. There’s a transformation that happens… they see themselves as good people that don’t need to be tough. They start to become proud of that – yeah I’m making goo-goo-ga-ga noises at my baby, what? That’s not tough? Well I’m a good father. So maybe a good father doesn’t have to be tough.”

Here, then, are a few of these fathers in their own words:

Richy Santiago

Dominic Hardin

Sammy Cruz

 

Forgotten Homes

By Cameron Zohoori

Mao Kang is a streetworker at UTEC. On a day-to-day basis, his work consists of reaching out to young people across Lowell, responding to violent incidents, and “planting seeds of peace” in the city’s youth. But Mao’s specialty is homeless outreach. Having been homeless himself for many years in his youth, he feels a special connection to the homeless of Lowell, and an awareness of the stigma attached to it. “What are the images that come to mind when you hear the word homeless? I ask a lot of people. They say, ah, some guy, the bum kicking a can, drug addict, long overcoat, have nothing better to do, beggar. You know, I say, that could be all of it. But you don’t know the rest.”

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Young people can be particularly vulnerable to homelessness, as city shelters require parental consent for underage residents. “But if they’re 18 and older, they’ve got their own choices. Sometimes they’re on substance. And if you’re not clean you definitely can’t stay. So where you gonna go?”

“Our motto is, we never give up on anyone. Sometimes you have to call up your family like, honey, I’m going to be a little bit late. I don’t know what time, but I got some young person that got no place to stay. So there’s nothing I can do.”

Mao’s commitment to chipping away at the problem of homelessness in Lowell goes beyond the youth who come to UTEC for assistance. He frequently visits shelters and other hotspots around the city, checking in with previous acquaintances young and old, offering basic hygiene products and food supplies, and making new connections. For some, home is found in semi-permanent collections of tents near rivers, woods, and bridges around Lowell. These tent cities, many of which have been or will soon be removed, have been home to some residents for many years. Now many sites lie abandoned, the residents having left ahead of city efforts to clear them out. A walk through these partially abandoned homes reveals images both sad and uplifting, everyday and sublime: a trampoline with a gorgeous river view; partially charred family photos; pet rabbits in orderly hutches, with an extra constructed for donation to the animal shelter; and ingenious repurposing, recycling, and reusing.

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Tito.

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Kong.

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RAW Chiefs

By Andrea Patiño

As the winter slowly advances, the days seem to be getting colder and colder. Every day however, the sun is setting a little bit later and there is one more minute of light each afternoon. In spite of the cold, the Boston skies continue to be some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. The light peaks in beautiful ways through the snowy branches and the sunsets are always astounding.

On a cold day like this, I met Jonathan Rodriguez, a now 21 year old who works at a sheet metal factory. He is a native of Lynn and was once part of the programs at Raw Art Works, the non-profit I have been working with for the past months. At his young age Jonathan is the father of two, not uncommon in Lynn, which has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.

A few years ago, when he was in his last years of high school, Jonathan became part of the RAW Chiefs group, an initiative crafted by RAW fifteen years ago, to give local young people a chance to work and gain leadership skills. The RAW Chiefs is composed by a group of students who are selected every year to be part of weekly leadership training sessions. Additionally, each teenager is in charge of co-leading a group of younger kids that attend other RAW programs. All RAW Chiefs are paid for their work and their participation in the program is treated seriously, just like any other staff member. They are responsible for their work and are held accountable for their actions.

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For teenagers to have a job like this—where they develop leadership skills, become mentors to younger kids and are paid for their work—in a place where opportunities are scarce, is a tremendous chance. While some of these teenagers have strong support systems at home and will likely go to college no matter what, others rely on RAW to be their home and the place where they find guidance and support. For some of them, like Jonathan, it may even be a life changing opportunity that allows them to stay off the streets and away from gangs and drugs. As Jonathan told me, being a Chief not only kept him away from these things, but also has made him a better father, a better worker and an altogether better person.

Every Thursday afternoon the current RAW Chiefs meet with three RAW staff to discuss issues relevant to their age and to create art surrounding these topics. I have been given the rare opportunity to be part of this group—rarely anyone is allowed to join, in order to maintain confidentiality and a safe and comfortable space for all of its members. Being part of the group with these young individuals, as they transition from adolescence to adulthood, has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had since coming to Lynn. These are very resilient and inspiring young people, who are at an age of tremendous changes. During group sessions we can go from laughing at silly things to talking about very serious and personal issues. It is a real gift to be able to document this process.

When I speak to Jonathan I can tell that he carries a lot of pride for having once been part of this group. Some of the kids he mentored years ago are now Chiefs mentoring others, who will then go on to mentor even more youth. In a place like Lynn, a network of support and mentorship like this one carries a lot of meaning, because it has the potential to change lives, just like Jonathan’s.

Andrea Patiño 2012-2013

Andrea Patiño Contreras, a native from Bogota, Colombia, graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and a certificate in policy journalism. While at Duke, Andrea became deeply fascinated by photography, both as a practice and as a theoretical subject. She engaged in multiple photo documentary projects. In 2010, as a recipient of the John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Award from the Center of Documentary Studies at Duke, Andrea photographed slave castles in Ghana and explored the relationship between these spaces, tourists and locals. A year later she traveled to the West Bank, Palestine, as the photography intern for Students of the World. There, she documented the work of Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, an NGO that works with Palestinian women and children. Simultaneously, through the Visual Studies Fellowship at Duke University, she conducted research about the role of photography in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This culminated in her senior thesis, which examines the role of photography in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its potential to become an alternative political platform.

At Duke, Andrea combined her profound passion for photography and storytelling with civic engagement. This interest took her to Apopka, Florida, where she worked with undocumented immigrants. She has also written for different student publications about immigration and race, topics that she feels passionate about.

Regarding the Lewis Hine Documentary Fellowship, Andrea says, “Photography has given me a more nuanced understanding of the world and has made me realize that it is the human connections that this medium facilitates that remain most vibrant in our hearts and minds. This wonderful opportunity will allow me to take this belief even further: I want to explore how photographs can effectively trigger tangible changes in our society.”

Andrea is working with RAW Artworks in Lynn, MA. To follow Andrea’s personal blog about her fellowship, visit: http://documentaryexploration.tumblr.com/