Julia Cumes, has been a professional photographer for about 14 years. She comes from South Africa and is based in The United States of America. Recently she has been in touch with Linda Smith – the founder of Through The Eyes of Hope, a charitable organization that helps children orphaned by the genocide, HIV/AIDS and other children in difficulties to use photography to tell their stories. Cumes was told about the mentoring program and was interested in working with students. She has been focusing mostly on portraits and self portraits, and also did collaborative portraits project with students in their art /photo studio. The final part of the project was to do a self portrait, in which participants decided how they want to capture themselves. Cumes talks to Vijana FM more about her work and her experience with the Rwandan children.
Tell us more about your work…
I work for newspapers, magazines. I also do portraits, commercial work and weddings as well.
In the winter time, I travel and I do travel stories and more serious projects about more serious social issues. I have been to India, Thailand ,Indonesia, Africa – all over the world – taking photos.
Did you exhibit some of your works?
Is this your first time to teach/train?
No, I have taught before, I used to teach a college, but this is the 1st time to teach in Rwanda.
What is your focus in photography?
I am very interested in people. I am very interested in social issues, women issues. I have photographed a lot of stories about women in very difficult situations. I like to find stories that people don’t know about so I can tell the world something they don’t know. So mostly social documentary and cultural pieces. I once did a story about cowboys in Hawaii. So [I like] people and travels, even travels are about people.
What was your work in Africa?
In Tanzania, I was working on a project that teaches women how to grow shell fish for protein. So I photographed this program in Zanzibar that teaches women how to grow shell fish to make money for and feed their families. In India I did a project about young girls who are sent into sex work at a very young age. I also tried to do a project in Tanzania about the superstition there, and women who are being accused of witchcraft. In South Africa I did a story about children who are growing up after Apartheid, what is it’s like now.
What did you like the most in your class?
Just how much enthusiasm there was. They were all so excited about the photography. I didn’t have to make them do things. When I asked them to do something they did it. They were very enthusiastic and they were really appreciative of me being here… and I just have fun with them.
What do you think is the potential for Through the Eyes of Hope?
I think that it should continue because it offers children a way to express themselves in a way maybe they don’t have the opportunity to otherwise. And I hope that I will continue for many years. American photographers or photographers from around the world can come and continue working with the students, so they can learn about the world and have opportunity to learn from people who have a lot of experience working in photography. I think it’s just a really fantastic program for the people who visit as well as for students!
Do you plan to come back?
Definitely, yes, I want to come back probably next year. May be doing another project with them, because I have loved that so much. I wish I could stay longer! They really learn, I think this program is very good because it also gives them a real skill that they can learn, that they can make money with. And plus after school, they come here and they all know each other like a family, it’s a good structure so they are not just on the street, after school they are doing something useful. And I think they are all really excited about photography, I think they all love it. It’s nice that they can express themselves through photography. I think it’s really a great program.