Shooting Back

Jim Hubbard, a professional photographer, was walking along the streets of Washington, D.C. one day with a nine-year-old boy. He was teaching the boy photography as part of a project with children living in shelters for the homeless.

“We’re shooting back,” said the nine-year-old, who was carrying a camera almost as big as he was. He made the comment in a neighborhood where gun shots were a daily occurrence, and while the two walked past syringes strewn along the curbside.

Thus was born the name for the project, “Shooting Back.”

The project began in the late 1980s. While documenting the problem of homeless people in Washington, D.C. for United Press International, Hubbard got to know a number of children from the shelters. He decided it would be a good idea to let the kids document their own realities, under the guidance of professional photographers who volunteered to work with the kids. From about 1988 to 1990, the project worked with over 150 youths aged seven to 18, from about six different shelters in the Washington area.

“There were few rules in this photographic project,” Hubbard writes in the introduction to the book, Shooting Back, a collection of photographs taken by the children. “The idea was simple: the children would document their world inside the shelter or within one block of the shelter. They used the professional camera after a photographer taught them the basic use of it. The central theme was to allow the children to look through the viewfinder of the camera and take pictures of the world they perceive.”

Hubbard, in a phone interview with Rethinking Schools, said the biggest lesson he learned from the children was that despite their homelessness and poverty, they retained a resiliency and comraderie he did not expect.

Their photos speak of human connections, not isolation, and display a range of emotions.

“They had a pretty optimistic view of their world,” he said of the children. “They showed [in their photos] a lot of the joy of their families, of their friends.”

Hubbard is now executive director of Shooting Back. The non-profit group not only works with kids to teach them photographic skills, but also hopes to educate the public about issues of poverty and homelessness among children in America.

A Shooting Back photography exhibit is currently on tour at museums across the country. It is at the Chicago Children’s Museum until the first week of January, and then moves to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Hubbard said.

There are also educational materials to go with the exhibit, developed by the Children’s Museum of Denver’s Education Department, in conjunction from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The education packet has various activities to make children more aware of issues of poverty and homelessness; a journal where children can record their reactions to the photographs; teaching guides for grades 4-12; facts about homeless people in the United States — prepared by the Housing Now national coalition in Washington; local and national organizational resources, and a bibliography.