Photographer Phill Borges trusts the youthful point of view

A local project with photographer Phil Borges puts cameras in young hands to effect change.

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WALLA WALLA -- A local gallery, agency and college have put a global photography project together with social documentary photographer Phil Borges.

Kary Beckner and Colleen Sargen from Willow Gallery coordinated the three parts of the project: Borges' exhibit and lecture at Willow, a workshop, "Students Explore Diversity," and a benefit auction of the students' photographs that will start Friday at Whitman College.

"We are much honored to have Phil. He is an inspiration for us and we hope for the community as well," Beckner said. Borges' exhibit "Enduring Spirit" will be open until Oct. 30 in the Loft Gallery at Willow.

Borges has traveled in remote areas all around the world, photographing indigenous communities. His book, also called "Enduring Spirit," was published with the support of Amnesty International for the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998.

"My photographic projects are devoted to the welfare of indigenous and tribal people. My intention is to help bring attention to the value these cultures represent and the challenges they face," writes Borges in his mission statement. Borges founded the Bridges to Understanding program, an online classroom that connects students from the U.S. with children from indigenous cultures around the world.

"With Bridges we ask kids from indigenous communities to show us through the means of photography and audio arts what they want to solve in their community. I've always trusted kids' point of view. There is a lot of honesty about it that I like. Whenever I go to a very remote site, and I don't know the language, I first try to make friends with the kids," said Borges.

Students Explore Diversity was put together by Laci Cole, director of YWCA's After School Adventure Program and a special guest in the exhibit with her "Porch Culture" series of black-and-white photographs, and Charly Bloomquist, photography professor at Whitman College. Eight children 5 to 12 were paired with five Whitman students and were asked to photograph their culture.

"For the kids the great part was the shooting. One word that explains it all is 'excitement'. In theory they were going to photograph their own culture and home life activities with a digital camera. It was a bit hard to keep them process focused, they were all doing what they want, and that was great," said Cole.

"I did what I could to stir the kids towards a traditional photograph, composition and subject representation. Then my students guided the kids for their topics, helped with editing the images," said Bloomquist.

"It's a very different way to express themselves and the kids were very excited to use this new means," said Elena Gustafson, a senior at Whitman who was one of the student facilitators.

The last part of the project is the auction of the "Students Explore Diversity" collection, which will be open Friday through Oct. 30 at Reid Campus Center.

The auction will benefit the YWCA's After School Adventure Program, Cole said.

"Photography is the means that helps you step in other's cultures," said Borges.

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