MN: A LENS ON AMERICA
As a lens zooms in on Hodan Ashkir, the girl in the royal blue hijab and long floral skirt flashes a bright smile, then turns her head, shying away faster than a camera set on auto-focus.
"No, don't take my picture," she says, giggling.
Twelve-year-old Hodan would much rather peer through the lens of her borrowed Canon point-and-shoot camera, which is looped around her wrist like a bracelet. Before the summer ends, she will use it to take hundreds of photos of her city, neighborhood and home inside St. Paul's Skyline Tower, a 24-story high-rise overlooking Interstate Hwy. 94 that houses more than 1,000 low-income families.
Hodan, who was born in Somalia and moved to the Twin Cities three years ago, is a member of the Skyline PhotoClub, a group of 10 youths between ages 9 and 14 that meets at Skyline Tower. Half of the club's members moved to the United States with their families from Somalia, Vietnam or Ethiopia. The others are the first generation of their families to be born in Minnesota.
"We are one family," said club member Hamdi Aden, 14.
Local photographer Paige DeWees was looking to launch a documentary project about Skyline's residents when she and two other volunteers, Wendy Petersen and Laurie Callahan, started the photo club in April 2004. The club was added to the English and citizenship classes, Girl Scout groups and study sessions offered through Skyline Tower's Advantage Center, which has classrooms and computer labs.