ARI GILLESPIE INHERITED HIS TALENT FOR PHOTOGRAPHY FROM HIS FATHER AND HIS EYE FOR COMPOSITION FROM HIS MOTHER. BUT THE GIFT OF ALTRUISM IS ALL HIS OWN.
Ari Gillespie has always been encouraged to explore his artistic nature. The prodigy of a father who worked in daily newspapers and a mother who worked as an interior designer, the Perth-born teenager was well attuned to his creative calling from an early age.
Now the Year 12 student has paired with Nikon to launch an innovative project he hopes will allow his indigenous peers the chance to do similarly. Launched as a result of Ari’s volunteer work with not-for-profit organisation Indigenous Communities Education & Awareness (ICEA), the project involved staging a series of photography workshops for around 30 children, each of whom live in remote communities.
Called ‘Eyes of the Community’, the project allowed the students the chance to get to learn the basics of photography on COOLPIX A100 cameras donated by Nikon. The best of the resulting images were then auctioned off and the money raised given back to participants’ communities of One Arm Point, Lombadina, Djarindjin and Beagle Bay in Western Australia’s far north.
Ari says the aim of the project was to showcase the unique perspective of those living in remote Indigenous communities while also providing a creative outlet that benefits the entire community. “I see this perspective as something we tend not to see in the big cities we live, and many I have spoken to before and after the trip have reinforced this idea. I really think that everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves as well as be able to experience and understand various ways and mediums of presenting this expression,” he says.
Having grown up in a house filled with various photography and design books as well as professional cameras, Ari understands better than most the importance of being introduced to artistic expression from a young age. His dad purchased his first camera, a Nikon D7100 for him when he was 12 after the West Australian photographer got sick of Ari running off with his own bodies – a Nikon D4 and Nikon D5. Both father and son continue to use Nikon to this day with the latter’s kit bag also incorporating a NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G lens for “really beautiful, low depth-of-field, close-up shots”, and a NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR to be able to shoot from afar.
Having pitched the idea to Nikon prior to heading on the ICEA excursion, Ari says he felt humbled to be offered 10 point-and-shoot COOLPIX A100 cameras for the kids to use in the workshops, as well as a Nikon D810 to use for capturing video of the project.
Ari says the trip itself lasted for two weeks during which the ICEA team also ran a host of activities as part of its overarching goal of achieving reconciliation by bringing together young Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Australians to create positive shared experiences, build relationships and promote greater cross-cultural understanding.
He says all four different photography workshops were held with each taking around two to three hours.
“The workshops were very learn-and-go. By that I mean that the group was constantly moving and we learned how the camera worked and it’s features as we went. I circled and explained things such as rule of thirds and other compositional techniques which the kids really tended to take into account with their photographs.”
From a technical perspective, Ari says the Coolpix A100s were the perfect match for the project, allowing the kids to experience the basics of photography while not sacrificing on detail or quality.
“The kids that were part of the photo workshops ranged from six to 15-years-old which really added to the diversity of the resulting photographs. I think that a child’s eye and how they perceive the world is something we, as a society, tend not to treasure as much as we should. This project and the amazing photos the kids captured in the end was a testament to that in many ways,” Ari says.
But while the children were quick to adapt to their new experiences, Ari admits it wasn’t as easy for him personally.
“In the beginning, I found it hard to get into the way of life up there as it can be slow and running programs and playing with the kids for large portions of every day became quite draining. But as the days went on the amount of enjoyment the whole team had really outweighed any downsides we had once been feeling.
“It’s important to remember a handful of groups already go up to these communities on a regular basis, coming and going, giving the kids something to do, but not really forging the kind of relationships that the ICEA Foundation does. The process of getting the kids on board was pretty on-the-spot and very spontaneous, and that fluidity is really the best way to go about it up there. That’s what makes ICEA special in my eyes, it’s a group that really stands by the youth and stands out from other programs. And I think that from this they gain a mutual respect from kids, wherever they are.”
Ari says the positive feedback received from everyone including participants, sponsors and the Fremantle gallery where the exhibition night was held has prompted talk of making it a regular occurrence.
“It really makes me happy to think that people are behind this idea and believe in it as much as myself and the ICEA Foundation do. I really hope to push this project further after I finish year 12 as I really believe it has the potential to be something much bigger.”
Additional prints of the Eye of the Community project are available through visiting the ICEA Foundation website.
[Words: Tracey Porter]