What happened when we gave cameras to the Ugandan kids

Isaac Newton Pupil Shots #030Just before heading out to Uganda I picked up a bulk load of digital cameras on eBay, with the aim of handing them out to the pupils and seeing what kind of pictures came back. I was originally going to use disposable film cameras, but these 20 little Vivitar 3-megapixel compacts came to £3 each – and I could re-use them – so I bit the seller’s hand off. When he heard my plans he sent along a few extra for free, which was very nice of him, and the night before leaving I spent an hour shoving titchy cameras into every available cranny in my luggage – then spent a week hearing little beeps while sifting through clothes, and having to find the relevant camera before its battery died. It was worth it.

The cameras weren’t great. The lenses were plastic, the screens on the back were barely visible, the sensors were incapable of taking sharp shots indoors1, and battery life was about 90 minutes. But they at least tried to expose correctly (unlike disposable film cameras, which just fire the flash and hope for the best) and could store 30 pictures. They’d do.

Once over there it was clear I’d only have time for this at the school we stayed at for a week, the Isaac Newton School. So I roped in Sam and Katie, the two Swansea students saying with me, and we figured out a plan. I’d been hoping we could teach a class, spending 20 minutes on the optics of lenses before introducing the cameras and sending the kids out to take photos. But this wasn’t possible as the teachers get paid per lesson and we didn’t want to deprive anybody, so we figured we’d hand out the cameras during a ‘break’ (timetables were pretty fluid), and collect them back a bit later.

And that’s basically what we did, except I made a mistake when talking to the Headmaster. I told him the plan, and explained that the school could keep the cameras at the end. Which I thought would make him happy. And it did. Except, once we handed out the cameras he and the staff promptly went around collecting them back in, because they were school property and the kids might lose them.

Hmph. But the kids had still had the cameras for 20ish minutes, so we borrowed them from the Head and took them back to the hotel to see what we’d got:

Isaac Newton pupil photos - 1

Isaac Newton pupil photos - 2

I like them! It’s cool to see the expressions they pull when posing for their friends – they’re quite different from the portraits I took. I also particularly liked this:

IsaacNewtonVivitar #060

I didn’t see any games the whole time I was there – there’s no way we’d have known about this otherwise. And then Sam spotted a sadly-anonymous work of utter genius:

Isaac Newton Pupil Shots #014

The cameras also had a (very) rudimentary video mode which some of the kids activated accidentally, so the full set has a few little clips. I kept a fair few of these back, though, as it felt a little off to upload little moments people didn’t know would be shared – but some are ok.

I’d certainly do things differently next time2, and it’s a shame there aren’t more, but I’m pleased with how it turned out nonetheless. Thanks to Sam and Katie for helping! The set is here.

  1. or outdoors sometimes. Not that I managed to blur any 7D pictures taken in African sunlight. Oh no. []
  2. if you ask me in person I might possibly have a few more details I can’t really say in public []