This article originally appeared on VICE Spain.
In February 2018, 21 disposable cameras were given to a group of nine- to 12-year-olds. The kids were from Orcasur and Las Torres, neighbourhoods in south-eastern Madrid you've probably never heard of. Far from the city centre, they're on the wrong side of the Manzanares river – the sort of areas tour guides and TV programmes don't mention.
The neighbourhoods of Orcasur and Las Torres were designed in the 1980s for low-income families in need of public housing. They remain some of the most diverse areas in the city, but residents face enduring social problems. Life expectancy for Orcasur residents is seven years shorter than for affluent Salamanca residents just 15 kilometres away, while unemployment for both neighbourhoods sits near 25 percent. Needless to say, they get a bad rep in the Spanish media – but for thousands of young girls and boys, this is home.
Though some people consider them no-go zones, Orcasur and Las Torres are areas full of colour and life, and the best way to appreciate that is through the eyes of the children growing up there. This is the motivation behind the Barrios Project, a cultural initiative-turned-photo book, organised by various local cultural associations. The project was lead by photographer Javier Benedicto, who describes it as straddling the "the social, cultural, and the artistic".
For the kids who live there, Orcasur and Las Torres are "the centre of the universe, the core of their existence", as author Sergio C. Fanjul writes in the book's epilogue. To them, "there is little else outside of it, nothing matters too much beyond its limits."
The photos present the whole gamut of life for these kids. As Benedicto describes: "There are basketball courts, bars, grandparents, graffiti, fluffy stuffed animals, high school halls, street games, fences, and more fences, and many, many friendships."
The young photographers not only took the shots, but also participated in creative writing and analogue photography courses. They wrote songs and performed them in concerts and in music videos. The photo book is just the culmination of a wider project. "The idea was that they were able to photograph their environment and represent how they moved around in it," Benedicto tells me.
The kids took around 500 photographs in total, making the selection process tough. I ask Paula, one of the girls who took part in the project, how she found using an analog camera. “It was difficult to take photos because you didn’t really know where to focus, where the person or what you wanted to photograph was, because there is no screen," she says.
Javi tells me he prefers the old-school method. "It's a different feeling – it's kind of intriguing because you don’t know how the photos will come out. And if you've taken a bad one…you have to put up with it."
In the book there is a note, a fragment of a song handwritten by one of the Barrio kids among the pictures. "This is a neighbourhood built from the bottom up, made with sweat, with love and with work. We fall down to learn how to fly, and we push forward to learn how to help ourselves."
Scroll down to see more photos from the Barrios Project.