In 1991, then Black Star photojournalist Nancy McGirr, handed cameras to eight children who lived with their families alongside thousands of others in Guatemala City's municipal garbage dump and had them document their lives. A project she thought she might do for six months celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
McGirr earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan in radio/television/film and then went on to specialize in photography at San Francisco City College. After several years of operating her own studio in San Francisco, concentrating on portraiture and corporate editorial work, she headed for Central America in 1983. Starting with UPI in Honduras and freelancing throughout Central America, she was hired as one of the first Staff Photographers in Central America for the new Reuters picture service during the turbulent 1980’s. Specializing in war photography McGirr often operated under fire and worked in tense, explosive conditions in El Salvador, Haiti, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Columbia, Argentina and Chile. Ready for a commitment that stretched her photography more profoundly than daily news, combined with the desire to put the cruel images of war behind her, McGirr relocated to Guatemala.
Guatemala embroiled in its own violence challenged her to involve herself with socially relevant stories and that led to a need to become actively involved in a community. Illustrating an article for an Australian magazine that community turned out to be the children living in the dump.
Originally called Out of the Dump, Fotokids, from its humble beginnings has served hundreds of at-risk children affected by poverty and violence by giving them a chance to dream of a better life, using photography, graphic design, media technology and vocational training experience as a tools for self-expression, creativity, leadership. The program currently provides over 170 children from eight different violence plagued communities with technical expertise taught by Fotokids alumni, an international mentoring program, and traditional scholarships from first grade through university. The children’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world in over a dozen countries, including exhibits in Tokyo, Paris, London, New York and Amsterdam.
The students and their photographs have received international recognition through television interviews, articles in prestigious newspapers throughout the world, photojournalist internships and have worked on films with George Lucas, Jaguar House films and Hispanic TV. Students have worked with United Nations Film Festival, Reuters design U.K., BBC online, etc. and for international organizations in Uganda, Colombia and Mexico. Their photographs have won important awards including two time finalists in both The Mother Jones Documentary Photography Grant, and BBC’s Young Nature Photographers competition. Documentaries about the project have won recognition including U.K.’s Channel 4 (won 1996 The Chicago Children’s Film Festival) and Australia’s Foreign Correspondent.
Fotokids’ classes are given by graduates who return to their neighborhoods to teach. As the project additionally provides traditional academic scholarships, many students have had the opportunity to attend the university.
A children’s book, Out of the Dump, photographs and Writings by Children of Guatemala, published by Wm. Morrow & Co received numerous book awards.
The older students have their own graphic design company, Jakaramba, which has worked for the U.N., non-profits, and commercial studios providing book design, photography, interviews and videos.
McGirr continues to lead Fotokids and has produced over 45 exhibits, given workshops in Tinduf Algiers, Granada, Spain and Adelaide Australia and
has been an invited speaker in NAFOTO, Sao Paolo, Harvard University, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Konica Gallery Tokyo, Photographers Gallery London, Centro Colombo Americano, Medellin, Trasatlántica PHotoEspaña, Madrid and Tedx Golden Gate.