Roberts Text

Fred Roberts: My Third Life: Photo Workshops for Third-World Students

In March of 2000 – after more than 30 years in the finance business – I retired.

Not knowing how I would spend the rest of my life, I recalled the positive reaction to some photographs I had taken in 1986 on an extended trip to Asia.

Although I had not touched a camera in over 14 years, I decided to take some courses to see if I were actually any good.

Four years later, I was approached by a prominent art gallery to do a show – and a publisher to do a book – which won several awards.

This was followed by two more books, more gallery shows, more awards and several museum exhibits.

My photographs are primarily environmental portraits of villagers in third world countries – who have very rich lives that are not defined by monetary wealth.

I loved my new work. I loved the message, and I loved the process of traveling the world and being with these people. But, strangely, after about 10 years, I felt less fulfilled.

Then, in 2011, I set up what has become my new life – a series of photographic workshops for third world high school students.

I recruited a faculty, created a curriculum, purchased cameras and computers and developed relationships with NGO’s around the world.

In partnership with those NGO’s, we offer a one-week workshop of professional level photography instruction to 20 students at a time, ages 14-17, half boys and half girls, half city and half rural – who have never touched a camera. And we teach them to tell important stories using the cameras.

It gives them a voice and permanently empowers them.

When we’re done, we leave cameras and software behind so they can continue their work. And we have created an online community for them to receive assignments and submit their photos for further education.

We often come back to give advanced training to previous students, and bring them along as teaching assistants when we teach a new class of 20 beginners.

They become teachers, photographers, photojournalists or social activists – whatever they want – armed with a new skill and a new language. And their work is really quite remarkable, as you can see.

In fact, the Yale School of Public Health is using two slideshows of our students’ photographs to illustrate comparative medical techniques in Bhutan.

Rather than talk about my new life, I have brought along a video of the work of our recent students in Tajikistan. These are their images, and their ideas. And I want you to remember, when you see this work – that it is the result of only one week of instruction to kids who had never before touched a camera.