Now you see me – young artists explore identity

The artists’ faces were everywhere – in photographs, in painted portraits and in amazing combinations of the two. And in front of the portraits were the artists themselves proudly exhibiting their work to the public – joyful and confident.

Between May and September 2017, 11 young people from IDEA Services in Henderson, Auckland, spent time learning about digital photography and then applying that knowledge to develop self-portraits. At the end of the course they held a six-week public exhibition at Zeal West – an organisation committed to developing creativity in young people.

The IHC Foundation contributed nearly $12,000 towards the 20-week course in photography and art. The project explored identity, focusing on what people and places mean to the participants.

In the first 10 weeks, the students were shown how to hold and shoot using digital SLR cameras, they learned about composition and lighting, and how to edit. A drone was used to capture aerial landscape shots of places they identified with. In the second part of the course, the images were manipulated to capture the personalities behind the images.

 Zeal West Programme Coordinator Naomi Reese says the idea is to nurture self-expression and to create a sense of belonging. The students – all between the ages of 20 and 26 – were all at different levels, but “their level of engagement is incredible and their level of patience with each other. For a number of them this would have been the first time they had handled a proper camera.” 

Photography Tutor Anieszka Banks says the students were focused and committed. Over the 20 weeks each of the students made remarkable progress in confidence but also in ability – from not being able to hold a camera or paint brush to being completely confident and using both unassisted. 

“The students loved working with the drone, which was dubbed the ‘flying camera’. “We integrated it into the lessons in a few different ways. I had a stack of coloured cards and I got the class to hide them throughout the park. Then we led JP (John Puleitu, the manager of Zeal West) on a treasure-hunt style adventure through the park with the drone. We watched the footage back on the projector to see him find each thing that we had hidden. 

“We also used the drone to take photographs of us as a group in different patterns and formations. This way the students got to see the link between how things on the ground level and how they looked from a bird’s-eye view.”

The youth organisation Zeal Education Trust has been working with young people in New Zealand for the past 18 years. It says it is committed to positively influencing young people through creativity. Zeal also engages with up to 500,000 young people online through its Live for Tomorrow programme, tackling issues such as mental health, identity, bullying, self-harm, alcohol and suicide.

The IHC Foundation has been supporting the Zeal Education Trust since 2014 and has funded barista training, music-making, photography and art initiatives in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. IHC Foundation Chair Sir Roderick Deane says Zeal makes a point of including young people with intellectual disabilities in its programmes. “This goes a long way to create a real sense of belonging and confidence.”

 [Caption: Mitchell Richards, 24, with his exhibition of self-portraits at Zeal West in Henderson.]