JCC Camp Chi campers tell stories of inclusion and belief through photography

Camp Chi photography Keshet image
Camp Chi's Shoreshim girls cabin represents some of the young photographers at camp this summer.

A picture is worth a thousand words. We hear that often-the notion that a photo can convey the essence of a subject more effectively than a description, but we tend to ignore its meaning. InFocus, a national non-profit, based in North Carolina, gave me the opportunity to implement this saying at Camp Chi-charging campers to take photos that had a voice, pictures that were  truly worth a thousand words.

JCC Camp Chi, with the support of Keshet, is nationally-recognized for its inclusive community, where campers of all abilities feel welcome and valued. For the past three weeks, 50 campers used photography to explore inclusion and their beliefs through InFocus, an innovative, community-building program.

The task at hand was challenging and invigorating at the same time. Every other day, I gave the four cabins I was working with a new photo prompt to use to take pictures at the camp. The camper ages ranged from 5th-10th  grade. The four prompts varied within connections with Jewish values, inclusion, and love for Camp Chi. After each cabin submitted their three-to-five images and answered the prompt I had given them, we would then have a cabin discussion: "Why was this photo taken?" "How does this photo answer the prompt?" "How does this photo make you feel?"

One of the prompts was, "What does kindness look like? A girls cabin (ages 10-11) submitted a picure of the rafters in their cabin.  When asked how this photo answered the prompt, the girls collectively explained that the rafters work together to hold up the roof. The rafters support one another and in return the rafters put a roof over our heads.

Without realizing it the photographers gave human traits to inanimate objects. They came up with the idea of objects having the ability to be kind.

A boys cabin (ages 14-15) answered another prompt: "Show something about camp that makes you proud to be Jewish." Before every meal at Camp Chi, Hamotzi (blessing over bread) is sung. Singing Hamotzi is a part of the normal routine and can go unnoticed or underappreciated because it becomes so routine. However, the young photographers found meaning behind the shared prayer. They explained that in the photo they took, everyone is coming together, united in prayer. We each have our differences, they explained, but our commonality in rituals, like singing Hamotzi at meals, unites us in being Jewish.

Camp Chi held an InFocus culminating event, showcasing all the photos taken throughout the summer. The campers were able to see their photos and have a chance to tell the stories behind them. 

Camp Chi is proud to have been selected as one of two pilot camps for InFocus. This program was made possible by the Joan and Stanford Alexander Family Fund and the Ruderman Family Foundation. Camp Chi is part of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative.

JCC Chicago and Keshet are partners with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Carly Klein is a JCC Camp Chi staff member and on-site coordinator of InFocus.

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