Photographer reveals the humanity in youth

Lee Carruthers is no stranger to controversy. Four years ago, he gave cameras to local Carmacks youth and taught them the art of photography.

Lee Carruthers is no stranger to controversy.

Four years ago, he gave cameras to local Carmacks youth and taught them the art of photography.

After the project was completed, Carruthers planned to display the kids’ work at the community rec centre.

However, by the end of the show’s first day a third of the photos had to be taken down.

“This could be kiddy porn,” Carruthers remembers one of the village administrators saying in disgust.

The “kiddy porn” consisted of children brandishing their middle fingers, and one girl smoking a cigarette.

Carruthers’ own work, showing at Zola’s Café Dore this month, is simply titled Carmacks 1: Youth.

And it’s ruffling some feathers of its own.

The large black and white images reveal young people dramatically posing for the camera.

One picture shows a young boy as he chokes one of his peers in a headlock.

In another, three girls slump over each other on a school desk with looks of apathetic boredom.

A third shows three girls staring into the camera. One smiles and displays a peace sign while another gives a serious look and a discreet middle finger.

“It’s totally spontaneous,” said Carruthers, explaining his photography.

“These kids are pretty creative and theatrical; they really have a sense for the dramatic.

“They’re really sweet kids,” he added.

Carruthers finds that most adults see kids only as troublemakers. He doesn’t agree with them.

“They’re just fooling around when they flip you the bone.”

He hopes that viewers are able to look past the kids’ grim looks, thuggish poses and hand gestures to see the real humanity and beauty of their faces and personalities.

“What impressed me the most were the warm supportive relationships that they have with each other,” he said.

The photos will make up a chapter of a book of photography that Carruthers plans to create about the people of Carmacks where he lived for five years full time and two years part time.

It was a period of his life that he describes as “punctuated by remarkable hardship and joy.”

He worked as a social worker, consultant and occasionally bush pilot.

In December Carruthers moved into Whitehorse, and is still trying to get used to the big city life.

“In Carmacks it’s different; it’s very compact and easy to connect,” he said.

“If you go to a potluck, everyone will be there.”

Carruthers has been shooting pictures all of his life, but in 2001 he decided to take it seriously.

He bought all the expensive equipment and committed himself to photography semiprofessionally.

While taking pictures of the kids, he was pleased to see that they acted far more free with him than they would with most adults.

“Kids get a raw deal,” said Carruthers.

Whenever the community needs a young person to participate in an event they only pick from a small group of “good kids,” he said.

The rest of the kids are overlooked and ignored.

In Carruthers’ photography however, the children are given their chance to shine.

He rotates between using digital and film cameras but always works in black and white, which he considers to be more graphic.

All of the film is scanned, edited digitally with Photoshop, and printed on an ink-jet printer.

Which photo is his favourite?

“They’re all pretty special to me,” he said.

“You go through them all and distill it down, selecting the best ones. It’s kind of a painful process actually.”

One picture did stand out in his mind however: A young girl wielding a large knife as if about to stab the camera.

The picture was actually taken as the girl chopped vegetables at a community kitchen.

“It’s so hard to read her face,” he said looking into the stony eyes staring out of the picture on the wall.

It was that same photo that seemed to be causing most of the stir at the show’s opening last Friday.

“It’s hard to tell what she’s thinking. You can’t see if she’s joking.”

It’s that dark comedy and mischief displayed expertly in the photos that makes the show so intriguing.

Hopefully, this time there will be no need for censure, or a censor.