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Confinement is Time to Be Creative

Detroit students use writing, photography for self-expression during COVID-19 times

DETROIT — Detroit students who are enrolled in the community photography program, Capturing Belief, are learning how to see the details of their own homes and families through a different lens.

Though schools are closed due to COVID-19, being confined to home offers a learning opportunity, said Khary Mason, co-founder of Capturing Belief, Detroit police detective and professional photographer.

"The isolation the children feel is real," said Mason. "With school cancelled, we are getting a glimpse of their innocence and what they are coping with."

Khary and his partner, Romain Blanquart, a former Detroit Free Press photographer and filmmaker, founded Capturing Belief in 2016 to teach students the power of visual storytelling. They are among the community organizations in Southwest Detroit surrounding the iconic Michigan Central Station that have received Ford Fund support.

Photography offers youth a way to use their own unique abilities to be creative. And how they observe their surroundings and illustrate their experiences is up to them, Mason and Blanquart agree.

With COVID-19 stay-at-home orders cancelling their after-school sessions, Mason and Blanquart shifted to online learning and call the effort The Remote Ally Project.

"We are all allies in this new world where we need to learn to keep interpersonal connections strong while communications are remote," said Mason.

Life during these COVID-19 times may be boring and lonely, but it still offers an opportunity for creativity, Mason said. The first remote assignment for the students—aged 8 to 21—is called "Confined."

With that one word and several prompts, the Capturing Belief founders sought to have the youth express what it means to be confined using words and pictures. 

"We wanted them to think about what's in their homes and show what they usually overlook—relationships with siblings, a corner of their room, a view from their window—and write about it as well as capture pictures of it on their phones," Blanquart explained.

During the remote online sessions, students take turns presenting their projects by reading their journal entries while displaying their photographs. 

Other assignment themes include a self-portrait exercise, depiction of three things in their lives they realized they can do without and photograph their absence. Future themes will revolve around dreams, beauty, love.

"How do you photograph love?" asks Blanquart. "As we go forward, we will help our young people learn how to do that."

Photography and journal-writing are important methods of self-expression, Mason and Blanquart agree. Through Remote Ally, Detroit children have an opportunity to express their feelings about this most uncertain time.

"For the first time in their lives our students are experiencing a pandemic," reads the Remote Ally's mission statement. "They have had to adapt and change the way they live to stay safe and keep other people safe.

"During this extraordinary time, it is also most important that as remote allies we stay attuned to their and their family's needs so that we can direct them towards the appropriate resources when needed."

To learn about Capturing Belief, click https://www.capturingbelief.com/.

IG: @capturing_belief

The Remote Ally Project is part of Capturing Belief, a free photography program for Detroit youth that teaches the power of visual storytelling. In 2016, Khary Mason, a Detroit Police homicide detective, and Romain Blanquart, a documentary filmmaker and long-time Detroit Free Press photographer, founded Capturing Belief to steer inner-city youth away from crime toward promising futures. In 2019, they received a grant from Ford Fund, as part its commitment to invest in communities surrounding Michigan Central Station in Detroit.