What is it like to teach Generation Z to use a disposable camera? With a smile, Vanessa Molina, a Community-Engaged Fellow, will tell you that it’s enough to make you feel old. You might be curious about what the modern function of a disposable camera is, unless you’re familiar with Photovoice. Photovoice is a process by which participants are provided cameras to document their lived experiences revolving around a specific topic or theme. It is a mechanism through which the voices of young people, who often go unheard, can share their wisdom with their community and their city. In the summer of 2017, the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative, Denver Smart City, The GrowHaus, PCs for People and the University of Denver partnered for the Smart City Photovoice Project in North Denver, a project that aimed to give the young people living in the Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods the opportunity to explore, through photography, what they loved, and where they would like to see change in their community.

From DU, came Community-Engaged Fellows like Molina, a member of a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students that help to deepen the university’s impact on some of the community’s greatest problems, by forming partnerships with community organizations that are rooted in reciprocity and mutual benefit. Each Fellow focuses their energy and passion on one issue area. For Molina, an investment in education access and equity attracted her to Photovoice. Alongside Vanessa, Michael Oyakojo, a Masters Candidate in Economics, channeled his interest in and knowledge of urban renewal into supporting the project.

Each week, the project engaged 13 young people, ages 13-16, in weekly half hour workshops facilitated by the Fellows, during which everyone got to know each other better. In the first two weeks, they brainstormed group rules of conduct and learned about ethical considerations for photographers. Most importantly though, “ancient wisdom” was passed down of how to use disposable cameras. Later, they decided aspects of their community to explore, took pictures, and developed their artistic statements.

After several weeks of skill-building and story-telling, around week 5 things really seemed to click. The bonds Fellows had established with the students were flourishing, and the group began preparing for the exhibition. In August, everything ended in an art exhibit displayed at The Growhaus. Below the powerful photographs were the artistic statements the students had written to describe their inspiration for taking the shot and its meaning. The community flocked to view their neighborhoods through the eyes of the youth. Being a part of the evolution of the project from start to finish, Oyakojo, said he was “happy to be a part of the positive change agents within the North Denver community.” Molina’s only lingering feedback? More time, especially to how even a disposable camera can capture the angles necessary for an Instagram-ready photo.

Learn more about our Community Engaged Fellows.