It requires very little creativity to go into an area that’s been dubbed “The Badlands” and take a bunch of black-and-white photos of deteriorating row homes, crack heads and crime scenes.
But to look past the less-than-picturesque urban setting and offer an uplifting -- but honest -- portrait of the area, well, perhaps that’s a job best left up to children.
It was with this idea that the non-profit organization, Centro Nueva Creacion created “The Goodlands," a community-based after-school and summer arts program where children, ages 5 to 13, tap into their creative potential and explore the art of photography.
After learning the fundamentals from professional photographers, they then venture out into their neighborhood with digital cameras to capture whatever strikes them.
Since 2000, hundreds of children from North Philadelphia have participated in the program, most of them from the Latino communities of Fairhill and West Kensington. Their work has been displayed at coffee shops, community centers and galleries around the city, including summer exhibits at the Penn Museum’s Fox Gallery for the past six years.
Their current exhibit at the Museum, “The Goodlands: Young Photographers Inspiring Hope in North Philadelphia,” runs through May and includes a selection of more than 40 of their finest photos. Featuring vibrant images of people, places and things in their community, the collection is candid, yet playful and rather impressive.
“Some kids really have a niche,” explains Angela Jubinville, Centro Nueva’s acting executive director, .
Younger kids tended to take portraits of family members, strangers and other children. They also seemed to have been more observant of random discoveries like a giant slug and a black kitten napping in the wheel well of a car.
The older kids were a bit more abstract, utilizing the different angles and lighting techniques they learned. One 11-year-old, Coral, even got down on the broken asphalt of a playground to capture the reflection of the surrounding buildings in a trash-filled puddle.
But really, what makes the collection so evocative is the simplicity of their photos.
“They really do see the world in a different way,” says Jubinville. “They have an imagination and something to say, and I think as adults we tend to loose that.”
Indeed, getting a glimpse of the world through the eyes of innocent children will make you realize just how much of a jaded Philadelphian you really are.
That’s the whole point. The exhibit asks visitors to consider, then reconsider, their initial impressions of these neighborhoods.
While the media may present them as nothing more than a collection of notorious drug corners, the children show them as actual communities--a place rich in Hispanic culture where people work hard, children play in the streets, and parents gossip on their front stoops.
One of the talented young photographers poses the question: “If I didn’t take pictures, how would you see my neighborhood like I do?”
The answer: We wouldn’t.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve become so accustomed to these negative stereotypes because, as Jubinville explains, “nobody is going to invest in this community if they don’t see it’s potential.”
Thru May. $10-$6. Penn Museum, Kress Gallery, 3260 South St. 215.898.4000. penn.museum