Whilst I have been researching migration and participatory photography, I have come across a project about unaccompanied asylum seekers to Finland. Although there are no images to see, I thought the information that I reading was just as important in understanding participatory photography practises and also why it is such a great medium to tell stories in. The authors Pauliina Gronholm and Aline Kalfayan are currently writing their thesis on the use of participatory photography in media education, and was a reason I found the text relevant and useful to my research about participatory photography.
Finland has received record numbers of asylum seekers in a very short time. They have also seen a significant number of unaccompanied asylum seekers. In 2014, the number of unaccompanied asylum seekers driving in Finland was 196. In 2015 that rose to a total of 3024 unaccompanied minors (2832 boys and 188 girls). The majority of these asylum seekers were originating from Afghanistan. Due to the large number of minors entering the country it is often forgotten that they are in fact minors with many people just focusing on the fact that there are a large number of them entering the country. The publics attention becomes diverted from the welfare of these children and their experiences and has thus created the need for more participatory approaches to discuss the issues of young asylum seekers.
This project ran from December 2015 to May 2016 and was participatory in its nature, encouraging young asylum seekers to express their voice through photography. A group of around 10 Afghan boys took part in the weekly workshops to learn basic techniques on how to take an photograph, visual representation and self-expression. Outside of the workshops they were able to take photographs of their everyday life, broadening their understanding of photography and giving them the photographic opportunities to create participatory experiences through self-expression.
It has been said by Freire, (2005) that in order for change to happen, the marginalised groups need to be empowered in order to change their surroundings. At first, they are helpless, but then they understand the unfairness and corruption around them and then become aware of their own choices: either to accept or to try to change their reality. This is reflected in the participatory photography technique where participants can choose to take pictures of themselves, choose what to share and reflect upon as well as explore their own perspectives to look further into their surroundings. This allows debate to be evoked and consequently allows them to try to introduce change into their communities. Photographing has often been a way for participants to tell their stories and share them in the public realm.
So why is photography good to be used in participatory projects? There are a few reasons as to why that are quite important to highlight.
- There is a power to the still image that communicates and leaves a lasting impression as well as being able to communicate ideas of representation and further understanding of a situation.
- Photography can shed light on and raise awareness of important social and global issues such as migration.
- Photojournalism has the power to call people to action and impel change.
- Photography is fun!
- Simple enough to do as opposed to other forms of creative outlets e.g. painting.
- The accessibility of photography to all ages, cultures and skillets.
- Photography can cross linguistic barriers.
- Sharing images is easy and can help to generate open dialogue and discussion.
- Relatively low cost in comparison to film making etc.
- Vast variety of ways a photograph can be reproduced and disseminated.
- Dual nature of photography as a tool torecord fact as a creative art form.
Despite all these positives of participatory photography, it is not always that simple. In some cases, it may appear to idealistic in regards to expecting social change, that may not be immediate and may take a long time to happen. Project such as these, although effective, may not be easy to assess in terms their impact on policies or the improvement of an issue. Although people are aware of the issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean that change will come about because of it.
But participatory photography still has its benefits, such as allowing trust to be built between participants and the researcher, and it gives them the opportunity to capture what they wish to show and overcome their misunderstandings through dialogue. With using visual methods there is no need for words, and this is a key point that is particularly important when working with immigrants who literacy level and language skills are unknown or who don’t speak the language of the country. Photography gives them the power to express themselves and feel more confident.
There are benefits on an individual level rather than just on a bigger scale and that is important to start with in terms of participatory photography. It is about the individual and what they want to say and how they are able to say and communicate that as well as being in control of their representations. It gives them a power and control that is not often gained in non-participatory or collaborative projects, and is a key thing to note.