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Sex Trafficking Victims' Photography Goes on Exhibit

By Paul Biasco | April 28, 2014 6:08am
 The participants in the New Lens Project pose for a silhouette photo.
The participants in the New Lens Project pose for a silhouette photo.
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New Lens Project

LINCOLN PARK — Eight weeks ago, a dozen victims or potential victims of sex trafficking each were given a digital camera.

On Monday the work from eight weeks of training in photography and writing will be on display in an exhibition at Columbia College for the world to see.

The exhibition is the final product of the pilot program called the New Lens Project, which was started by students from DePaul University and Columbia College.

"What's most important is the girls have agency to dictate what they want to get out of the class," said Tessa Lavdiotis, a DePaul student who is curating the exhibition.

Paul Biasco chats with DNAinfo Radio about the New Lens Project:

The project was thought up by Columbia College student Bronte Price, who is also a photographer for Getty Images, as a way to give victims a voice.

 Bronte Price, left in red, instructs a group of students during a session of the New Lens Project.
Bronte Price, left in red, instructs a group of students during a session of the New Lens Project.
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New Lens Project

The project initially partnered with Calumet Photography to supply the students with cameras, but the company shut down its Goose Island shop before the project began.

Instead, an instructor at Columbia College agreed to foot the bill for 15 digital cameras.

Each Friday night Price and her team host a three-hour class for the dozen-or-so participants. The students look over photos from the previous week, learning about topics such as composition, and eventually head out with a camera to shoot an assignment.

Each student will have a final project on display at the exhibit, with a theme of resilience.

One student chose to focus on a series of facial expressions; another chose to photograph foods from different ethnicities.

"Art really has the ability to say a lot of things that can't be said with words and action," Price said. "Creativity can just create larger conversation."

Price, 21, partnered up with the Chicago-based Dreamcatcher Foundation, a non-profit advocacy program for victims of human trafficking, for the project.

The foundation not only hits the streets at night to help victims, but goes into Chicago Public Schools to let students know that help is available.

"Our mission is to ignite social change through the arts, so it's like the perfect combination," said Tye Johnson, vice chair of the Dreamcatcher Foundation board. "A lot of times people don't know how to express themselves and don't know they have other sides of themselves to explore."

The students who have been part of the News Lens Project are mostly high-school age.

They are excited to have their work seen, Johnson said.

The exhibition opens at 5:30 p.m. Monday and will showcase prints of the student's work, information about human trafficking both in Chicago and internationally, and a "Solidarity Selfie Wall."

The college students behind the project put out a call to people all over the world to send in selfies if they consider themselves to be in solidarity with human rights and ending violence against women.

The project coordinators have received submissions for all seven continents, 41 countries and 43 states.

After the exhibition, the selfies will be posted on the New Lens Project's website in an interactive digital gallery. 

During the opening night of the exhibition at 33 E. Congress Pkwy., the participants' work will be sold in a silent auction to benefit the Dreamcatcher Foundation.

The staff of the New Lens Project hope to continue the program with new classes of participants, possibly in the summer.

"It's not every day you get a chance to see something you've done be on exhibit, especially at a college," Johnson said. "For a high school kid it's pretty amazing."