Trip to Uganda provides perspective

Photographer Henry Vanderspek recently returned from a trip to Uganda, photographing schools for Photographers Without Borders and the Ugandan organization Raising Voices. Above, students peek out of a classroom door at KCCA Primary School, while students reach for the camera at Bombo Common Primary School, below. PHOTOS: Henry Vanderspek
Photographer Henry Vanderspek recently returned from a trip to Uganda, photographing schools for Photographers Without Borders and the Ugandan organization Raising Voices. Above, students peek out of a classroom door at KCCA Primary School, while students reach for the camera at Bombo Common Primary School, below.
PHOTOS: Henry Vanderspek

Henry Vanderspek certainly has his editing work cut out for him after spending a week and a half taking thousands of photographs on a Photographers Without Borders trip to Uganda.

Vanderspek, an East Danforth resident who used to work for World Vision, jumped at the chance to document Raising Voices, a program in schools in the African nation to combat violence against women and children. The ‘good school toolkit’ promotes positive discipline instead of corporal punishment, and is used in hundreds of schools.

“I was really impressed with the program and how it’s having an effect in those schools,” he said.

Before he could even make the trip, however, Vanderspek had to run a crowdfunding campaign, which was successful enough to cover the costs of his travels. The copyright of the resulting photographs will be split three ways, between Vanderspek, Raising Voices and Photographers Without Borders.

With his work for World Vision, Vanderspek had previously travelled to neighbouring Rwanda and Tanzania; however, this was the first trip where photography was his sole reason for being there, and he did feel a bit of pressure. He needed to discern what the needs of the organization are, and attempt to use images to show the value of what they do.

Vanderspek said the experience was as amazing as one would expect, and he felt very welcomed by the people he met.

“There’s so much warmth, and so much love and kindness in the people,” he said.

His previous travels must have prepared him well, as Vanderspek said the Ugandans he encountered were impressed with how well he dealt with the local culture, including the food.

Now that the experience is over, the real work is underway – he estimates that he made between 600 and 800 images from each of the nine schools he visited, a daunting task for even the most dedicated photographer. When the images have been pared down, he hopes to hold an exhibit involving not just photographs, but also words and stories from the places he visited.

“I hope that beyond just showing images that people can learn and be inspired by the principles and practices coming through the work,” said Vanderspek.

Uganda_PWB_Raising Voices

Even though many North Americans only know of much of Africa through negative headlines, Vanderspek hopes to show the beauty that he saw when he was there.

“I continually want to show that in my images, and get beyond what makes the headlines that is so much on the margins of what is day to day life of the people that live there. I hope that comes across when I get the chance to show these,” he said.

While waiting for the full exhibition, a preview of a few of Vanderspek’s images from Uganda will be on display at two upcoming outdoor art shows. The Danforth East Arts Fair runs Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14 and 15, at East Lynn Park, on Danforth just west of Woodbine. He will also be showing work at the Queen West Art Crawl, Sept. 21 and 22 at Trinity Bellwoods Park near Queen and Strachan in the West End. Also on display at both shows will be his other work, including events, nature, street scenes and concert photography. View more of Vanderspek’s work online at culturesnap.ca.


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