14 June 2012

The Giving Lens comes to Cusco

Photography is one of my passions, and a week or so ago I was privileged and delighted to meet some of my heroes from the photography world. On behalf of Picaflor House, the project I manage here in Peru, I hosted a visit from a team of world-class photographers from The Giving Lens organisation. Founded by internationally renowned photographer/photo instructor, author and humanitarian Colby Brown, The Giving Lens focuses on blending photography education with giving back to local communities.

The Giving Lens offers photography workshops in various locations around the globe, where they work alongside local non-profit organisations that are doing exceptional work. These workshops are designed and led by Colby, who offers a unique and creative learning environment that not only showcases the latest in digital photography techniques but also emphasizes the importance of lending a helping hand to help make the world a better place for all life on this planet. What better combination!

After arriving in Cusco on Tuesday 29 May, Colby and his team of Mike Chambers, Joe Azure, Vincent McMillen, Alexis Coram, Christopher Cox and Michael Bonocore spent their first afternoon recovering from their long journeys from various international locations and getting acclimatised to the altitude. Next morning I led the group on a photowalk around Cusco, visiting local markets and the major tourist attractions and finding the best spots for views over this picturesque city. They were a fun group, happily posing for my camera and enthusiastic about the sights of Cusco.

Thursday morning saw an early start as our group headed out of the city to the ancient Inca ruins at Tipon, a small village south-east of Cusco. As roadworks were underway on the access road, we had to hike 300 metres up part of the original Inca trail to reach the ruins, no mean feat for a couple of the guys who were carrying 50lb backpacks of camera equipment. But the effort was worth it, as the team shot some amazing photos of the impressive ruins and surrounding landscapes. 

Back down in the village for lunch, the more adventurous photographers got to sample the local delicacy, guinea pig – not me though, I had trout! 

After lunch we headed down the road to Picaflor House, where we were treated to a traditional Peruvian dance performance by our kids – they performed so beautifully! – and then spent a couple of hours photographing and playing with the children. Both the photographers and the kids had a blast!

The Giving Lens team spent the next three days at Machu Picchu, capturing the delights of that magical ancient city of the Incas, before returning to Cusco on Sunday 3 June. The next day I took them exploring again, this time to the little town of Pisac in the Sacred Valley, where they photographed the ruins and the impressive mountain landscapes, did a little souvenir shopping in the local market and enjoyed more delicious local food, before heading out for another afternoon with our kids at Picaflor.

This time we enjoyed a performance of Goldilocks and the 3 bears, by one of our English classes, then joined the volunteers making owls in art class. It was a lot of fun and Colby even put aside his camera for a while to make an owl to take back to his 9-month-old son!

With this scouting workshop having been such a huge success, Colby has already committed to a return trip to Cusco and Picaflor House for a longer period and with a bigger team in 2013. Not only will they photograph the kids, they will also bring donated cameras and run workshops to introduce our kids to the basics of photography. As Alexis Coram, one of the team, wrote on her return to the USA, this will ‘let them freely document life through their eyes.... I’m sure these kids are in for a real treat next year and that their involvement with The Giving Lens will only boost their personal and social growth. I predict that some of them will become photographers themselves ... they seem to be naturals.’

I am thrilled with how the trip worked out. Not only will this partnership provide much-needed funding for Picaflor, it will also benefit the kids in other ways. Our kids are very creative and really love our arts and crafts classes. They love being photographed and then immediately race to the photographer to check out their photo. They also love borrowing my camera and those of our volunteers to try taking photos themselves.

I contacted Colby because I knew our kids would be very keen to learn more about photography and, if they show some talent, this might also lead to career possibilities for them. Cusco’s economy is dependent on tourism, yet the quality of photographs on postcards and in tourist brochures is generally quite poor. We really could do with some good home-grown photographers!

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