The lights were low at Paper St, a brand new restaurant on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue. So new in fact, that the meals coming out of the kitchen were the first being served to the public. There were photos up on the walls, along with descriptions of what the series meant to the photographer. Well-heeled Calgarians milled about, enjoying the delicious street-inspired food and cocktails and checking out the photo boards. The event was the wrap-up of the Urban Exposure Project (UEP), a program that teaches Calgarians about social issues and photography. We spoke to a few of the participants to get a better understanding of how the program changed them and their views on social issues in Calgary.
Ready to check out Paper St for yourself? Come check out the June Mingle happening on June 21. Get tickets here.
I am so glad I chose to do the program. It was very interesting to see a different side of Calgary, for example visiting the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, or the bus tour of Forest Lawn. It was inspiring to meet people who are passionate about social change, and are working to create a better city for all. I learned a lot from the guest speakers, mentors and participants, while improving my photography skills and making great connections and friends. I also really enjoyed hearing from local photographers about their careers and methods.
I knew that United Way was one of the larger organizations in Calgary, but I didn’t realize the wide scope of programs and charities they invest in. After learning more about United Way, I would like to support them in the future, and encourage others to if they are looking for a way to get involved.
I learned that poverty in Calgary goes beyond what we see on the street. Many people living in poverty are hard workers with jobs, trying to do the best for themselves and their families. Certain circumstances make it difficult to break the cycle of poverty, but the United Way invests in some great programs that provide valuable resources where they are needed. The program opened my eyes to issues I wasn’t as aware of, like senior isolation, housing, and safety.
I loved it. I learned a lot about United Way and photography and I made a ton of good friends. If I was staying in Calgary I would absolutely do the 2.0 version and this one again next year. I honestly had no idea what United Way did and now I’m an advocate for their cause, for example, I’ve told a couple of people about 211 already and I expect it will be very useful in the long run.
The UEP program is a volunteer opportunity like no other. It doesn’t require a huge amount of your time; what a person puts into it aside from the 2 hours a week that we meet, is up to the individual. The experience, learning, and networking opportunities with other like-minded aspiring and pro photographers exceeds any photography course or certificate you can take (apart from a full diploma or degree). You learn that photography isn’t about the f-stops, it’s about the concepts and ideas behind your images. The people you meet and the friends that you’ll gain are the most valuable thing a person can get from this program.
You start to learn as you go on the photowalks, the tours, and through listening to speakers that Calgary has many layers, and that you have to dig deep to really understand it. Without this depth of understanding your perspective is limited to those cheesy postcards of the city scape, tower, and Saddledome.
UEP makes you want to learn more about United Way and how you can participate, it encourages conversation. I’m learning now that there’s still more to learn about the city that I was born in, and hopefully as I learn more, I can share it with others.
Thanks to Julian Tejada for the photos of the event and Graeme Hull for the headshots.