When Bryan Watt ventured to Southeast Asia with 19 of his colleagues from the Brooks Institute of Photography as part of a 100-day photographic expedition of the Mekong, he had no idea how much the endeavor would change his life. The goal of the project was to document daily life in the region, but it was the desperate needs of the children of Thailand and Laos that became the subjects of his resulting works.
Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Watt returned to Laos to study the Akha tribe in the northern regions of the country. There, Watt found himself helping the sick and injured-and gaining their trust. Shortly after returning to S.B., he convinced his wife, Leila Srour, a local pediatrician, to move with him to Laos.
Since 2002 the former Santa Barbarans have been based there, working with various health organizations, primarily in the child support field. Currently, the duo are working to build a permanent primary school for 286 children from the village of Ban Nong Boua, and Watt’s alma mater and fellow alumni are stepping up to lend a hand.
On Thursday, June 5, in conjunction with the Downtown Organization’s monthly 1st Thursday event, a silent auction of photographic prints will take place at Brooks Institute’s Cota Street Gallery from 5-8 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting the school. The works draw from Brooks faculty and students, as well as noted artists like Mark Seliger, Chris Rainier, and Horace Bristol.
“When we decided to produce the show, we sent out a call to the alumni and the response was overwhelming,” said Brooks’ Rob Winner. “Alums from all over the U.S. stepped up to the plate. One of Mark Seliger’s assistants is a Brooks graduate and we contacted him. I was simply hoping for a couple of photographs, and what we got were two editioned prints from Seliger-one of Brad Pitt and another of Jerry Seinfeld.” Also included in the auction are prints from many of the photographers who took part in the initial Mekong expedition.
Throughout his career, Watt has held the belief that a socially responsible photographer leaves with a part of his subject’s soul, and in return, must give back by helping those in need. And through Thursday, July 10, Brooks’s Cota Street Gallery will see a community of photographers doing just that.