Dr. Curt Rhodes
March 17, 2023
Founder's Series: Our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Dr. Curt Rhodes, on what it means to serve the last.

You know, some people really are star-warriors with light sabers! They capture time and space – to freeze-frame visual experience. We call them photographers.

And some of these freeze-framers capture things that exist only in the spaces of their minds – so that we can see their feelings, experience their thoughts, get inside their heads. These we call artists.

Over the past 5 years, Lens on Life trainers have offered professional-quality photography training to hundreds of Syrian refugee youth in the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of Jordan who aspire to capture visual experiences. These young people connect with us through the Questscope photography school in this 2-square-mile camp of 80,000 residents – a population the size of Plymouth, Minnesota or Lynchburg, Virginia.

It all started with the Lens on Life founders, Sam and Jack, two photographer brothers from Brooklyn, NY. They had a brainwave of putting low-cost equipment (a camera) into the hands of well-trained people (young photographers) for a small business opportunity (wedding photography). Brilliant! A talent developed, a skill marketed, a livelihood underway for a young female or male whose income-earning potential inside a refugee camp was otherwise basically zero. 

Then, the wild began.

These refugee photographers turned out to be GOOD. So good that Sam and Jack arranged an exhibition/auction one evening at a gallery in Manhattan, NY. The sale of twenty-five photos totaled-up to a 5-digit figure, a LOT more money than we imagined possible. Money that was channeled right back into the photography school. 

I think this is the first time in history, ever, that refugee youth themselves are donors to refugee youth projects! Which is, in my book, a top example of empowerment by the Golden Rule: if you have some gold, you can make a rule. A decision. A choice to do something different than you, and others, thought was possible! On the trail towards going way past the limits of a refugee camp fence!

It takes time, experience, and mentoring by some of the ‘best” to progress from being a good photographer with good freeze-frozen images all the way to an artist able to turn a photographic image into an emotion – to reach a heart through a person’s two eyes. And that is what these refugee youth want to do – to reach our hearts with their stories through their images. To be seen. Heard. Known. To enrich each of us as we handle the pictures and the story of the person behind the camera.

We have advanced our goalposts now for some new goals. Taking wedding photos is still cool – that cash spends very well. But in our photography school we are now making more investments in exceptional skills training and building portfolios that give visibility, voice and vocation to a generation of survivors of suffering.

We need the wisdom of the suffering of these young people. They need the generosity we can offer for them to move our hearts.  Sound like a good deal, right!?

Please visit this link for an on-line version of our in-person Exhibition that took place on the 16th of March to get your heart tangled up in the marvelous image-stories of refugee photographers. Make an offer. Bid and buy something. Donate to the photography school. You are just one step away from a creative young thriver who is a survivor of one of the worst refugee crises in this century!

With you with us it can only get more wilder!


Amman, Jordan

Dr. Curt Rhodes