In the fall of 2010, two photographers Gina Zacharias and Juan Hein decided to take action due to the escalating gun violence in the once peaceful district of Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Gang affiliation and shootings were becoming a more frequent story in the media. The Point and Shoot program fit right into offering an alternative activity for the local youth instead of taking the path of no return.
The two began brainstorming on ideas of establishing a brand for the project that would attract the youth that would otherwise be drawn to the rising gang activity. They decided on the name Point and Shoot. The website, and the Point and Shoot branded sweatshirt hoodies followed soon after as they felt it was important to have a serious package that demonstrated the sincere intentions of the program prior to a first meeting with its potential members.
Zacharias explains, “Point and Shoot is a creative springboard with a mission to teach photography as a form of expression to marginalized youngsters in socially deprived areas. The concept is to hand the initiative to the youth and to listen to their story. The mission is to teach them how to express who they are and what they feel through the lens of a camera.” By participating in the program, Zacharias and Hein aimed to help the participants to achieve a deeper sense of understanding themselves.
At first, the Point and Shoot program was received with resistance and an atmosphere that was tense and intimidating. “We started by visiting the youth club ‘First Floor’, which is located on the edge of Nørrebro. The mood at the first encounter was very charged and suspicion and mistrust seemed to be the order of the day. It soon became apparent that the young men in question were quite used to being confronted with `well meaning´ projects that never amounted to very much. We therefore decided to use all our energy in convincing them that we were there to stay and would see the project through to the bitter end as long as they would give us a chance to prove our sincerity,” says Zacharias.
All Point and Shoot members are selected on their individual merits and are encouraged to think for themselves. The activity of taking photographs, and the reasoning that is involved in such a process, is an individual activity in itself. The program took time to show the work of the individual photographers of repute that they assume would be of interest to its members. Zacharias states, “we have gone to great lengths to show them that the taking of photographs is an individual pursuit that can be achieved using diverse methods and modes of thinking. It is something that is akin to the `teaching by doing´ principle where the individual is wholly responsible.
Point and Shoot firmly believes that “photography can be an effective tool to stimulate and develop the youngsters’ imagination. By introducing them to the world of museums, art galleries, and the public library as a source of research, the founders believe that their education, self esteem, and general well being will be enriched,” expresses Zacharias. As to future plans, they have established a wonderful mutual working relationship with Statens Museum for Kunst and have decided on the development of a new video workshop, as well as additional chances for exhibitions.
This has certainly had the impact of increasing the participants self confidence as individuals, and the fact that the results of their work has been of such a remarkable standard that it has been selected to participate at the Copenhagen Photo Festival, as well as being featured in the recognized photo blog at the daily newspaper `Information´. The founders are confident that their further participation in forthcoming exhibitions in both Argentina and Italy will also add to the general air of growing confidence within the group.
The Point and Shoot founders have done a great job at taking the rising epidemic of gang violence in Nørrebro by creating a program that helps to divert the focus of the youth in the community. According to Zacharias, “there has been a decided shift in their attitude towards us which can be described as warm and enthusiastic.” The group has also managed to gain the interest of neighboring communities. There has been a very positive response from two other areas of Nørrebro that are experiencing similar problems. These are namely Lundtoftegade and Blågardsgade and there is an ongoing dialogue as to how they can bring into effect an expansion of Point and Shoot that would encompass these two other areas within the framework that the program is offering. The program has had a significant impact on its members despite the initial resistance. “The boys have expressed their enthusiasm for our initiative, they are not slow in expressing their admiration for what we are doing which of course gives me, and I think I can speak for Juan, an enormous sense of well being. But there are challenges ahead for all the involved parties, which we will meet head on,” says Zacharias.
Zacharias and Hein have helped the members of its program and community to trust the program. They have worked at gaining the trust of the community by demonstrating that they are staying the course and are dedicated to the members. “In the final equation, it is of fundamental importance that what we do with the members of Point and Shoot proves to stimulate, it has to have a `feel good´ effect which is coupled with an individual sense of achievement for all the participants,” states Zacharias.
Zacharias and Hein are aware that their program still needs improvement. When asked to assess the progress of the program Zacharias comments:
“Evaluating the project is purely instinctive. It has to be said that the project is still in its infancy and needs to exist for a greater length of time in order to evaluate as to how much of a success it has been or will become. To date we can say that the members involved are proud of what they have achieved so far. They identify with Point and Shoot as a project that exists for their benefit. They are very forward and honest in expressing their opinions with their regard to the project and these opinions are the means that we have to hand in evaluating the progress we are making and go some way in giving us an indication of how we can implement further improvement and changes. I may add that all of the above are executed by mutual consent as we feel that this is a necessary ingredient of the “trust package” as we are not working in an environment where we can impose initiatives without a democratic process.”
The Point and Shoot program is just approaching a year since its creation, so it is understandable that the program has not attained wide publicity or an extensive amount of funding and donations. However, the program, overall is on the right course towards becoming a success. There are many pros and cons to every outreach mission, but they all share one common goal, change. As long as the persistence and passion of the Point and Shoot developers and members prevails, then their goals will always be attainable.