Chris Jackson, Getty Images' royal photographer, has travelled to Lesotho several times over the past eight years to document the work of Sentebale, the charity founded by Prince Harry and Lesotho's Prince Seeiso. The charity helps the country's poorest children and Aids orphans get the support they need to lead healthy, productive lives.
A recent trip to the mountainous kingdom proved to be a very rewarding experience. With the generous assistance of Fujifilm, Jackson ran photography classes for some of the country's most disadvantaged children.
He says: "I've always noticed the positive effect that the process of taking a photo has on children. It's almost therapeutic – the universal language of the still image has always been a means by which I am able to break down boundaries and create an immediate connection with the children I am photographing. On previous visits I have also noticed in many of the orphanages the children love creating montages on the wall of their friends and staff.
"I contacted Fuji who kindly gave me some brightly coloured Instax 8 cameras as well as a set of digital bridge cameras to take out to Lesotho with a view to giving the children an opportunity to get involved in photography sessions. I was sure that photography was a tool that would enable the children to, not only be creative, but reinforce many of the important messages Sentebale are keen to reinforce."
Sentebale means 'forget me not' in the the local Sesotho language. The charity focuses its work on the vulnerable children in a country that has been ravaged by HIV/Aids. Lesotho has the second highest rate in the world, leaving an orphaned generation in desperate need of support, education and medicine.
Jackson given permission to start running photography sessions for the children at the Mamohato Children's Centre, outside the capital Maseru. He says: "I headed out to Lesotho to begin the project armed with sacks of dressing up gear, a number of massively overweight bags containing the cameras and a huge amount of AA batteries. As we suspected the cameras were an instant hit with the children, many came into sessions very shy and reserved but left smiling and with a previously unseen level of confidence. Each group of children took part in an hour-long 'fun' introductory session, creating a collage on the wall.
"Knowing that the children in Lesotho love to dance and sing I was keen to make the lessons quite physical and with a real sense of fun. I played music in each class and, along with the volunteers, we encouraged the children to 'shake it' 'shake it' with the instant photos, most of the sessions involved a real sense of fun as the kids danced round shaking their photos in time to the music. Towards the end of the session the children dived into the dressing-up box and created images of each other gear in everything from pink wigs to father Christmas hats – great fun! (£20 well spent in Poundland Wandsworth!).
The children created a 'Mamohato Times' newspaper, using their photos and text they had written. Jackson says: "For me it was incredibly satisfying to see them using the cameras so creatively and thoughtfully to create something that reinforced many of the important messages they were being taught as well as remind them of many of the great friends they had made. At the end of a week-long camp the children were able to take away the images they had created, a lasting memory of the camp and something to show their family – invaluable."
Jackson recalls one particularly memorable incident: "Many of the children were playing sport on the games pitch at the centre. One of the children had very limited mobility in his lower limbs – while not wheelchair bound, he found it difficult to get involved in physical activity. Under the guidance of one of the volunteers he found that he could photograph his friends playing sport, making him feel like he was part of the action. The smile on his face as he looked at the images springing up on the back of the camera, this was something that as a photographer I really relate to. He took to the photography in a big way and whenever I saw him he was camera in hand – Getty sports snapper in training!"
Jackson headed back to Lesotho a few weeks later for the official opening of the Mamohato Centre, attended by Prince Harry and the King and Queen of Lesotho. Prince Harry is a keen photographer and immediately got stuck into the sessions, taking photos of the children and of the Lesotho royal family.
Jackson says the legacy of the project has always been vital to him: "Seeing the positive effect it had on the children made it important that it wasn't a flash in the pan. Getty Images and Fuji have been fantastically supportive of the whole venture, with Fuji even funding the project with film for the next year. Beyond this we are exploring ways to keen the children snapping well into the future."
If you'd like to support Sentebale's work with disadvantaged children in Lesotho, please visit sentebale.org.