The camera is well known for its power to capture, but over the course of a seven day workshop, a group of students in Lisbon learned firsthand of its power to transform.

The camera is well known for its power to capture, but over the course of a seven day workshop, a group of students in Lisbon learned firsthand of its power to transform. Not only the camera’s power to transform the way things are viewed through a lens, but also its power to transform the person behind the lens.

Twenty students aged 14 to 17 years old, of diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, were celebrated in a graduation ceremony held at the Ismaili Centre, Lisbon before an audience of more than 200 people, including their families. Each student had completed the Fredric Roberts Photography Workshop, which was conducted in partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation Portugal. At the end of the ceremony, an exhibition of the students’ favourite photographs was opened to the public.

João Costa, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Education, congratulated all of the students on their work and for the fantastic evolution that each of them had undergone. Delivering remarks in Portuguese, he appreciated the creative process behind each photograph and said that their quality left him speechless and filled with emotion.

The initiative led by the Aga Khan Foundation Portugal, he said, demonstrates the essential role of art as part of a quality education, in which the relationship established between a student and art should have value in itself and not simply as an add-on to other areas of the curriculum.

“This course has been a turning point in my life,” said Archana, a Nepalese participant aged 17 years old. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from professional photographers, who have taught us the whole concept of photography and its huge impact on society and people’s minds.”

The workshop was divided in two parts: a formal classroom portion, where the students learned the technical details about how to use a professional camera, and field work, in which the students practiced what they had been taught by taking photographs in areas where the Aga Khan Foundation is currently working. The students travelled to Pendão and Tapada das Mercês in Sintra and Vale de Alcântara in Lisbon to photograph civil society and social cohesion at work, and to Porto Salvo to capture activities in the lives of senior citizens. They also visited early childhood centres where AKF runs Early Child Development programmes.

The best photos from each of these locations were gathered in what Fred Roberts calls the “the stories”.

The main achievement was not only the technical knowledge that each student acquired but also the personal evolution they underwent, which raised their self-esteem and confidence, empowering them to express and connect with the world and communities around them. Fredric Roberts recognises this transformational change every time he runs a workshop.

“We always find kids amazing,” he says. “The workshop is about transformation, and to see this kind of transformation — that’s why we come. We see it happen here clearly and dramatically.”

Roberts was joined by a team of internationally renowned photographers: Sarah Meghan Lee, Wendy Walsh, Mike Sakas, Thomas Kelly, and Arthur Ollman. AKF Portugal worked closely with all of them to ensure a smooth and fruitful workshop, which Roberts appreciated.

“Everyone was fully involved from the top to the bottom; that gives us the freedom to concentrate on the students,” he said. “We were able to give our full attention to teaching and mentoring, which was exactly what we went here for.”

At their graduation, all the students had the chance to make short speeches. They thanked their mentors and AKF, and expressed their feelings on the transformational process.

David, a 17 year-old Portuguese student remarked that “during this week I found that I had the ability to be much more: a confident man.”