If the world was sometimes in black & white
She fills the room, this girl of 14, full of rage and indignation. She has that wonderful hair of urban black women — a halo of carefully arranged frizz, and a fringe completely covering one eye in a slick shiny curtain; impeccable makeup in shades of pink, lip gloss you can see your face in, and countless jewelled piercings. “Queen Latifa is my idol” she tells me with pride.
Then she gives me the full force of her fury “I don’t know why I’m f****** here. I don’t know you and I don’t want my photo taken…why we doin’ this?… I won’t smile… I only like colour photos”
I keep my cool. I have to. This girl is part of a project for young offenders and I am being paid to work with them, helping raise their self-awareness with the use of portrait photographs and facilitated conversation.
I keep her moving and chatting during the photo part of the session, afraid she will disappear out the door. I ask if she could move her hair a little so I can see both eyes. “You know how long it took me to get my hair like this?” she explodes. Somehow she warms up, forgets her attitude for a while and we chat while I shoot. The curtain of hair moves enough that I capture both eyes.
I download and edit the photos fast while she twirls impatiently on a swivel chair, gazing out at the local square that seems to be full of drunks. I put 20 pictures on a rolling slideshow. She sits impassively beside me. The photos scroll through, and I am waiting for her to comment…. they scroll again… and again. My confidence is faltering
”I can delete any you don’t like… ” I hear myself sounding apologetic. Silence.
“Keep them all. I like all of them” she commands quietly, looking intently at the screen “…it makes me want to cry when I see myself smiling like this — it reminds me of when I was a little girl…..and that’s me when I am bored. I eat and get unhappy and get into trouble….”
Relieved, I point out that I managed to photograph both eyes. She smiles. I also remind her that she told me she didn’t want the photos to be in black and white, but they are, and she is happy with them.
“If the world was sometimes in black and white, then we’d all see the truth” she says solemnly.