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Visual therapy

By Nattha Keenapan 21 July 2006  " THAI DAY "

A photojournalist gives child tsunami survivors a chance to face their trauma through
a viewfinder

While photographers rush to Indonesia to document the tsunami that hit Java this week, Masaru Goto, a Japanese photojournalist, is still busy with the previous one that devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004.

Masarufs work does not involve photos of death or destruction from the catastrophe,
nor does the photo exhibition he is working on include any of his own photos. Rather, all of the works hefs exhibiting were taken by children who lost their families and homes in the 2004 tsunami.

The exhibition is part of a series of creative workshops initiated by Masaru and a few friends from the Insight Out non-governmental organization. They taught 129 children from badly-hit Phang Nga province and Indonesiafs Banda Aceh how to take photographs
as a way to release their feelings and thoughts through visual images.

gWhen the tsunami happened I went to Phang Nga and stayed until New Yearfs Day.
I was working for a magazine in New York and the editor told me to shoot any dead bodies. I saw people crying and I spent nights with thousands of dead bodies; I could smell them on my shirts and cameras,h says Masaru. gBut then I asked myself what I was doing. I saw my pictures in the magazine and they looked nearly the same as everyone elsefs because many photographers went down there and took almost the same pictures. Then I thought maybe I could do something else for the people.h

Masaru, also a social and human rights activist, received awards from the Mother Jones 50 Crows Foundation and the World Health Organization River of Life photo competition
in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

Victims normally become an object of the photographersf camera whenever disasters happen, however Masaru turned things around by letting them get behind the lens, snapping photos of whatever they wanted to present to the world. He started with 13 children at a village in Aceh in March, leaving them a digital camera which he returned to pick up a few days later. After looking at the images, he found many of the kidsf pictures were of their homes, which were left in ruins.

gI told them, eTake the pictures of what you think is important to you and what you want to show to the people outside,fh Masaru says. gIn a way, itfs like they were facing trauma through a viewfinder.h

The project expanded to include another 64 children, aged eight to 18, at two international camps for families displaced by the tsunami | Barak Lot Kilat and Barak Sibreh | and a boarding school. Then he brought in 65 more children, aged eight to 15, from Phang Ngafs Ban Bang Muang, Ban Tung Wah and Ban Bang Nieng communities.

While most of the children participating from Aceh are Muslims, those in Phang Nga include Buddhists, Muslims, Moken sea gypsies and children of Burmese migrant workers.

Photojournalist Masaru Gotofs has given children who lived through the 2004 tsunami
a chance to express themselves through photography. Some of the photos are on display
at Kinokuniya bookstore at Siam Paragon. FCCT will host the full exhibition in December.

gWe wanted to see what would come from children in two different communities, of different backgrounds. What would their images be? In a way, it seems that pictures
from the Thai communities were a little less heavy and less intense than in Aceh, given the political background and scale of destruction in Aceh, which is much greater,h says
Tew Bunnag, the projectfs consultant and author of After the Wave, a collection of short stories inspired by his experiences working with tsunami victims.

The kidsf pictures do tell several stories. Many reflect their memories, including photos of ruins, fishing boats, a dead tree and empty beaches, yielding a sense of loneliness and emptiness. Some captured living conditions and the way of life inside
the communities and temporary shelters, including family members, friends and even pets. Others were a bit more lively, reflecting continued life showing houses and fishing boats being reconstructed.

gThis is very impressive. In the future, I hope the workshop will help trigger their inspiration to become professional photographers. I will be very happy if one day some of them do become photographers,h says Goto.

A small exhibition featuring some of the 129 photos is on display at Kinokuniya bookstore at Siam Paragon and will run until the end of this month. The main photo exhibition will be displayed at the Foreign Correspondentsf Club of Thailand in December, with each photo featuring a caption in the form of a story written by the children themselves. Also, the children will be taught to produce their own magazines, which will be released around October and include their photos and writing.

gThis is very important. At least they have a voice. Little by little, itfs building up a sense of dignity and a sense of healing. It gives them confidence and it will allow them and their communities to have a collective say, a collective expression,h says Tew, adding that many parts of the tsunami-affected areas remain dismal places. Assistance has decreased, many NGOs have left and the Thai governmentfs financial infusion to revive tourism was only top-down aid that did not reach many of those who really needed it.

The photo project, Tew says, has somehow helped break down the segregation of a multi-cultural society, with children playing and working together on a collective project.

gWhen the wave hit, when we lost our loved ones, we become, for one moment perhaps,
just humans crying for the loss,h says Tew. gI think this is one of the messages the comes out from the children.h

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