Hello. My name is Christopher. I joined Art Relief about one month ago now, coming from the USA with the intention of working with Mplus+, our partner organization that works with the gay, lesbian, and transgendered population in Chiang Mai. My background is in photography and film, and I have really been looking for a way to share this love with the people at Mplus+. The first month was a lot of looking around town for cameras – tricky, but a fun way to get to know a city for sure – but finally three Thursdays ago, a small group of us had the opportunity to host our first workshop during the Mplus+ drop-in hours at their office. A kind of get to know you.
This workshop didn't focus on photography, instead taking up the Mplus+ message of safe sex and bringing in a range of crafts made entirely from condoms, provided in bulk by Mplus+ themselves! We made beaded earnings, with condoms at the center, and flowers – roses and lilies in reds purples, and white, that even had green condoms for leaves (an innovation added by the participants, who maybe outdid our volunteers in skill and creativity). By the end of the session, we had en entire bouquet, and enough earrings to outfit the entire staff (as well as a kind of tribal breast plate, for a more extravagant ensemble).
The workshop served its purpose wonderfully, everyone chatting and laughing, despite a prevalent language barrier. Our initial apprehensions about crafting alone in the corner were immediately squashed, and I think everyone was excited for our return. We left with a better understand of what we can give to the space, as well as the people we will be giving it to, which makes it all twice as exciting.
The following thursday, we returned ready to tackle some photography. Starting with still photography, as a build up to the film they will be doing eventually, we met the group with a box full props - flowers, masks, backdrops, and instruments among them. After a short lesson on composition, we asked them to see what they could come up with, and let them run with it. The next hour was full of glamour shoots (for dolls and people), product placement, dramatic scenes, and a human pyramid. All of the photos were wonderful. They had taken the three basic rules of composition I had outlined and hit them, bent them, and broken them in ways that spoke to true creativity. We left this weeks workshop truly impressed, and laughing.
Last Thursday, we returned with the best of their photographs printed on iron transfer paper (intended for quick image printing onto t-shirts). We introduced the day with a discussion about collages and dyptichs, and how rearranging and coupling pictures can be a great tool for playig with the meaning of the image. This was interesting, but we switly moved on to cutting and positioning, ironing the images onto small canvas bags that the participants could then keep. The products ranged from abstract image scapes, to graphic love stories (some involving our own volunteers!).
We are now at a point where we feel as though we have truly gotten to know the participants at MPLus+. We have shown them some of the basic skills of photography, as well as really gotten to take in the true measure of their creativity, and they have been nothing but impressive. At the last session, we decided that everybody was probably ready for us to commence the longer series of workshops working with film. These workshops have been a long time planning, and the build up to them has been extremely exciting. It will be fascinating to see what is created in the coming weeks, and I'm sure it will be valuable for us, as well as the Chiang Mai LGBT community.