Resource: Upstate Girls by Brenda Ann Kenneally

This project combines many different layers and mediums to get it to where it is going. I’m interested in the project because it uses some of the participatory and collaborative ideas that we have been looking at in class.

The photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally created workshops to work with her subjects and arranged to partner with The Sanctuary for Independent Media, which was an organisation located directly in the Girls’ neighbourhood and was dedicated to fostering social change through art as activism. Kenneally also worked with the Rensselaer country Historical Society to ensure historic accuracy and to further the society’s mission : “Every face every story.”

Her aim of the project was to get women to respond to her in certain ways. She wanted to include them as part of the project but still give them some control over the media. In her project proposal that she has set out she has given the following statement about the way in which she wants to collaborate with her subjects:

“By using the graphic novel as a study guide and example, the women will respond by creating their own visual record via gathering photographs and ephemera and writing passages to bear witness to their own past and validate the culture that has been created by our contemporary social policies.”

By giving the women the chance to respond and allow them to create their own visual record and write passages, it makes the project collaborative and participatory. They are actively engaged and working on the project alongside the photographer themselves.

Alongside photographs, the girls also created scrapbooks where we can see their writing and things that were important to them. These have been turned into video style books that show their contribution to the project and how it built up over the many years of shooting. Below are just a couple of examples of many different stories that are told through the project.

I love the fact the girls involved have been able to show their own pen-work. What we see if their handwriting and their construction of their lives – essentially looking at a book. It’s a clever way in which to detail a long standing project with an individual that then ties into another persons work. The scrapbooks all come together alongside the videos and the photography to create a very personal insight into their lives.

There are so many images documenting the girls from all angles of their lives that it would be incredibly hard to show them all. The images themselves are very visual strong and move from a black and white medium into colour later on in the project. The effect created is one of moving through the years and growing up with the subjects as we see the changes in the stories and the changes in them. The images are very visually inspiring and a fantastic use of the medium and collaborative access the photographer had to the girls.

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Overall as I am looking more into participatory and collaborative projects, I have found it was increasingly beneficial to me to see another way in which someone has been able to achieve their aims in this particular avenue. It’s a fantastic project with a great deal of potential used to the photographers advantage and has given me an insight into ways I can collaborate on my own project for this module so I feel it has been beneficial to have found this project to understand ways and means in which to do this.

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