28Dec

Kate Holt teaches digital storytelling in the field — interview part 4

Kate Holt launches Arete Stories to teach digital storytelling.

Last year international photojournalist Kate Holt was teaching Ugandan soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia to photograph their experiences in the field, when she met someone who inspired her to make a shift in her career.

“I had asked the force commander to find me some Burundian soldiers that I could also teach, to ensure that both military contingents recieved the same training,” she said. “After I waited several weeks, a young Burundian soldier appeared in the photo training room saying he had been sent to learn how to take photographs. His name was Jean Claude, and he had never held a camera before, or used a computer. I gave him an hour’s training and sent him off for lunch, telling him to take some photographs of the mess hall on his lunch hour. He came back 50 minutes later having taken more than 300 photographs!”

Some of Jean Claude’s images were then included in an exhibition called “Brothers in Arms” at the Nairobi National Museum. Jean Claude now wants to work for his local newspaper in Bujumbura when he leaves the military, Holt said. Inspired by him, she, too, is making a change.

This February, Holt, whose audio slideshows about war-torn and devastated areas appear in the Guardian, BBC, Financial Times and elsewhere, will devote new energy and resources to coaching the very people she’s been reporting on to photograph and record their own situations. Her venture is called Arete Stories.

“This company is going to focus on teaching individuals and organizations how to tell stories that make a difference using techniques and ideas that I have developed throughout my career,” Holt said. (See a student sample audio slideshow below.) Arete Stories also will be producing films and multimedia pieces on behalf of clients.

Mogadishu digital storytelling program

Holt wants to launch a teaching program in Mogadishu in 2013. “I am looking for funding to establish a photojournalism module in partnership with Mogadishu University in Somalia to train up Somali photographers and journalists,” she said. “The project developed out of the training I did for African Union soldiers in Mogadishu. Many Somali photographers and journalists have struggled in an incredibly challenging environment to get stories and photographs out from Mogadishu during 20 years of civil war. To give them some element of formal training to enable them to do their jobs better is what this course aims to do.”

The results could be incredibly rich, as new digital storytellers scour their communities to record situations of the moment and produce audio slideshows and other digital media online. “I teach them to look for what matters to them,” Holt said. “They’ll be better at telling their stories; they see their conditions in ways we never can.”

Crowd-sourced storytelling

The time is right for such crowd sourcing. “The editorial world is changing so much with the Internet, Twitter and Facebook,” Holt said. “There’s a need to teach people how to tell their own stories in their own ways. I’d like to give them the tools of my experience as an international journalist to make it work for them.”

If the students are lucky, they’ll not only acquire some of Holt’s practical skills, but also gain insight into her unusual world perspective.

“I find other people’s lives fascinating,” Holt said. “I am also very privileged to be able to go to the places I go and not feel worried about traveling, ­because I have traveled to difficult and unusual places since I was born. I want to bring what I see and know to others who don’t have the same freedom.”

Audio slideshow examples

Below is an audio slideshow, “Living on the Edge” about drug abuse, created by a Kenya women Holt coached recently, Dorothy Otieno. It is on the Internews in Kenya website.

Follow Kate Holt on Facebook.

And take a tour of Holt’s recent audio slideshows and photography.

 — Interview and story by Laura Read

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