On April 22, 2017, 24 kids armed with cameras took to the streets of Boston.

Their first assignment: go high and low, worms-eye and birds-eye, to complete a photographic scavenger hunt. For the next five weeks, they'd be sent out again and again, building up an incredible archive of photos.

The photos (and challenges) were part of Pablove Shutterbugs, an arts education program for kids and teens in cancer treatment. The program was started in 2011 by Jo Ann Thrailkill in memory of her son, Pablo, a young photo buff who died of cancer in 2009.


"Foggy Pier" by Lily, age 11. Photo from The Pablove Foundation. All photos used with permission.

Learning to take photos while you're going through cancer treatment might seem like a nice distraction — and it does sound fun — but Shutterbugs is a serious education program as well, meant to teach new, technical skills. It includes both classes at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and real-world photo assignments.

Lily, 11, is one of the kids. Her dad, Garry, said he can see the confidence when she carries her camera with her. "When their picture comes out good, because of something [Lily] learned in class, I can see how proud she is," Garry said in an email.

The program ran through May 20, but the kids are getting a little something extra as well. Some of their photography will be displayed at an art gallery at the Fort Point Arts Community this June.

"It is very exciting," Lily said in an email. "My dad says that it took him a long time to get anyone to look at his photos and I am only 11 and lots of people have seen my photos."

Here are 11 more photos from this year's group of kids:

1. Zuehailey, 10 — "About to Be Squished by a Car"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

2. Zuehailey, 10 — "Untitled"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

3. Julia, 7 — "Adventures With Teddy"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

4. Julia, 7 — "Egg-cellent Dinner!"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

5. Lily, 11 — "Track to Trees"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

6. Skyler, 14 — "Glow Wherever You Go"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

7. Skyler, 14 — "Let the Waves Hit Your Feet and the Sand Be Your Seat"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

8. Alyssa, 16 — "The Lighthouse"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

9. Ronnie, 13 — "Through the Diamond"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

10. Ani, 13 — "Untitled"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

11. Dominic, 16 — "Untitled"

Photo from The Pablove Foundation.

The kids at Pablove aren't cancer patients who take photos. They're photographers who are dealing with cancer.

Cancer sucks. There just isn't really any way around that. When your days and weeks are structured around treatment and doctor appointments, it can feel like cancer becomes your entire identity.

By focusing on developing a technical skill like photography, Pablove gives some of that identity — that sense of agency — back.

The Shutterbugs program currently operates in seven cities across the United States, including Austin, New York, and San Francisco. The Pablove Foundation also provides funding grants for cancer research.

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