reveals the humanity in youth
Excerpts from a story in the Wednesday, August 1, 2007
edition of the Yukon News
Lee Carruthers is no
stranger to controversy. Four years
ago, he gave cameras to local Carmacks youth and taught them the art of
photography. After the project was
completed, Carruthers planned to display the kids’ work at the community rec
However, by the end of
the show’s first day a third of the photos had to be taken down.
“This could be kiddy porn,” Carruthers remembers one of the village
administrators saying in disgust. The
“kiddy porn” consisted of children brandishing their middle fingers, and one
girl smoking a cigarette.
Carruthers’ own work,
showing at Zola’s Café Dore this month, is simply titled Carmacks 1: Youth.
And it’s ruffling some feathers of its own.
The large black and white images reveal young people dramatically posing
for the camera.
One picture shows a
young boy as he chokes one of his peers in a headlock.
In another, three girls slump over each other on a school desk with looks
of apathetic boredom. A third shows
three girls staring into the camera. One smiles and displays a peace sign while
another gives a serious look and a discreet middle finger.
spontaneous,” said Carruthers, explaining his photography.
“These kids are pretty creative and theatrical; they really have a
sense for the dramatic. They’re
really sweet kids,” he added. Carruthers
finds that most adults see kids only as troublemakers. He doesn’t agree with
them. “They’re just fooling
around when they flip you the bone.” He
hopes that viewers are able to look past the kids’ grim looks, thuggish poses
and hand gestures to see the real humanity and beauty of their faces and
personalities. “What impressed me
the most were the warm supportive relationships that they have with each
other,” he said.
The photos will make up
a chapter of a book of photography that Carruthers plans to create about the
people of Carmacks where he lived for five years full time and two years part
time. It was a period of his life
that he describes as “punctuated by remarkable hardship and joy.”
He worked as a social worker, consultant and occasionally bush pilot.
“Kids get a raw
deal,” said Carruthers. Whenever
the community needs a young person to participate in an event they only pick
from a small group of “good kids,” he said.
The rest of the kids are overlooked and ignored.
In Carruthers’ photography however, the children are given their chance
Which photo is his
favourite? “They’re all pretty
special to me,” he said. “You
go through them all and distil it down, selecting the best ones. It’s kind of
a painful process actually.”
One picture did stand
out in his mind however: A young girl wielding a large knife as if about to stab
the camera. The picture was
actually taken as the girl chopped vegetables at a community kitchen.
“It’s so hard to read her face,” he said looking into the stony
eyes staring out of the picture on the wall.
It was that same photo
that seemed to be causing most of the stir at the show’s opening last Friday.
“It’s hard to tell what she’s thinking. You can’t see if she’s
joking.” It’s that dark comedy
and mischief displayed expertly in the photos that makes the show so intriguing.
Hopefully, this time there will be no need for censure, or a censor.
Except as noted, all content copyright 1973-2007 Lee Carruthers