Raul Guerrero

Presented at Fez I 
We recently took a few minutes to catch up with Raul Guerrero, one of the artists featured at our fist Slideluck in Fez, Morocco. Guerrero’s submission was not actually his own work, but were photographs taken by Tanzanian children. These children participated in Guerrero’s volunteer project during his time in Moshi, Tanzania: The Disposable Project. TDP put 100 disposable cameras into the hands of nine children guided by Guerrero in the art of photography, resulting in a social art project that is beautiful, touching, and empowering.

Slideluck: How did you come up with The Disposable Project? How does it fit into your own work as a
photographer?

Raul Guerrero: Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to countries I could never have imagined visiting. As a photographer, I’d take these opportunities to document my travels and keep these memories alive through the images captured with my camera. As I kept exploring this visual medium over time, I noticed that my work shifted from photo documentary work to more conceptual projects.

When I found out about my service trip to Tanzania, I reflected on my approach to documentary photography and found that it lacked a human connection. In retrospect, there were times when I was so involved behind the lens capturing a photograph that I would overlook human relationships occurring right in front of me. Knowing that I wanted to find a different approach for interacting with the community that I was going to be working with, I thought, “What better way to meet people and create relationships than to share my passion for photography?”

SL: How were the kids chosen to participate in the project?

RG: The nine students who were chosen to take part in TDP were the oldest kids in the Born To Learn program. I felt their age was going to factor into their comprehension of photographic concepts and their ability to communicate ideas during our critiques.

SL: What is life like in Moshi?

RG: I usually spent my evenings in Moshi Urban. It had pretty decent infrastructure, most likely due to the fact that it serves as the base camp for expeditions up Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was utterly breath-taking to wake up to the sight of the highest mountain in Africa from the backyard.

Leaving Moshi Urban is another story. After walking across town to the edge of the city, we would have to hitchhike and flag down large cargo trucks. After a somewhat painful 15-minute ride down the pothole-filled road heading towards Arusha, we would jump off and hop on the back of bike-taxis for a 10-minute ride south to reach the rural Newlands area and Born to Learn.

Besides the occasional tourist harassment, I had nothing but fantastic and memorable interactions with the locals, some of whom I still keep in contact with. The food was delicious too. Surprisingly, there’s a fair population of peoples of Indian descent in Tanzania, resulting in numerous Indian establishments and some of the best Indian food I’ve had.

SL: What did TDP mean for the kids involved?

RG: When the project was going on, TDP provided the opportunity for the nine students to learn something completely unfamiliar to them. Of course, with all the photographs around town–mostly in the form of advertisements–it’s not like they didn’t know about photography. However, learning photographic concepts gave them the chance to look at this subject from a new perspective. The project also gave the kids the chance to create and own something for themselves, whether it was the cameras or the 4″x6″ prints given to them after our critiques.

Through all of this, I hope TDP created a lasting memory and a source of inspiration for the students. Sometimes, youth need the space to dream in order to nurture an empowered mindset. While there are several factors that help facilitate the social development of communities, an empowered mentality provides the drive needed to endure hardships in order to reach a sought-after goal.

SL: Where are you now? Any new projects in the works? Will we be seeing more Disposable Projects in other parts of the world?

RG: I’m currently living and working as a Youth Development/Asset Building Peace Corps Volunteer in Outat El Haj, Morocco. As volunteers, it’s in our job description to implement participatory-style needs assessments and determine appropriate projects centered on improving a set of youth-focused objectives (i.e. youth life skills, employability skills, entrepreneurial skills, etc.). That being said, I’m currently trying to coordinate youth-focused photography workshops in collaboration with Moroccan counterparts and a few U.S. and Morocco-based organizations.

Regarding TDP, I’m planning on making an effort to head back to Tanzania once I wrap up my Peace Corps service next April. I really want to see how everything’s coming along with Born to Learn and the Newlands community. I’m also hoping to bring back a few copies of the TDP book to give to the kids who participated in the project. I think they’ll like that.

SL: Anything else you’d like to share?

RG: It seems like it was only yesterday that I was submitting proposals to the Center for Service and Action, as well as the art department and a few others at my university, trying to solicit funds for the initial purchase of the 100 single-use cameras. Although working on TDP has been quite a tumultuous journey, the global response to the project has been a huge inspiration and has provided me with the persistence needed to see the project through. It’s amazing to me that we’re actually at this point.

Also, to clarify, the book will only be available for purchase for a limited time of 12 months. All proceeds from the book/prints sold (via the website) will be accrued for a direct donation to the educational program we collaborated with, Born To Learn, once the limited run is over. So please, make sure to spread the word and swing by the-disposable-project.com

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