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Somerville youth document joys, risks of city life

Posted by Matt Byrne  August 22, 2012 01:00 PM

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Judcine Felix photo

Grimmons Park is a favorite place for photographer Judcine Felix and her brother, pictured here in a look of "pure joy" as he leaps through the sprinklers. Felix writes that more parks like Grimmons will help youth and families by providing safe places for fun.

From the trash-strewn underside of McGrath Highway to moments of private laughter on unnamed street corners, a dozen teens and young adults from Somerville documented in photographs the risks and comforts of life in the city this summer.

The project, part of a community safety summit run through Teen Empowerment, placed cameras in the youngsters' hands for weeks, and charged them with showing where they feel safe, where they sense risk, and where they see danger in their communities.

"Never in a million years did I imagine myself behind the lens," said Faith Blass, 15, who moved to the city two years ago. "But once there, I discovered I had a hidden talent."

And through the camera's viewfinder she saw a new side of the city, she said.

"I thought I knew Somerville."

To view the photos, click here.

At a reception and showcase Tuesday, city officials, police, and others viewed the images, heard testimonials from the photographers, and responded to the evocative, jarring, and tender moments captured by the youth.

"It seems you see from a position of real experience in the city," said Representative Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat in attendance.

The images were collected over weeks of shooting and discussion with organizers from the youth group. In all, the youth made more than 400 photographs, which was eventually whittled to just 36.


Some images are overt and troubling: two men sleep under a park bench in Foss park, a plastic bag of liquor bottles at their side; homophobic graffiti scrawled on a stoop; gang signs scratched into a ledge and a school desk.

"I know people join these gangs to feel safe," said Eric Medrano, who took both photos of the gang insignias. "But at what cost?"

Other images evoke family and comfort: A boy in green swim trunks twirls in a fountain on a hot summer day; a woman embraces her son after a day at work.

"As Somerville changes, and prices for rent and property values skyrocket, many families I know cannot afford to live in Somerville anymore," wrote Judcine Felix. "By providing more affordable housing, Somerville will maintain the family feel that makes this community special."

The project, paid for by a grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, uses the photographic medium to connect teens with their surroundings, said Emily Parrott, program coordinator at Teen Empowerment.

It's the first time the process has been tried in Somerville, Parrott said, although the format is an emerging and useful form of outreach.

The photos will go on display at the state house next month, and are available for viewing online.

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