Visualising truth: incorporating participatory media projects into documentary methodology

Martin, Thomas (2016) Visualising truth: incorporating participatory media projects into documentary methodology. In: IPRA (International Peace Research Association) Conference, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2016, 27 November - 1 December 2016, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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As a documentary photographer working in humanitarian development, my job is to capture a situation authentically, honestly and in a visually compelling way. To me, this creates a fundamental conflict - how do I aestheticise while remaining true to the subject? Is it appropriate to aestheticise at all? So often, the work which is deemed to be the most successful represents the darkest environments and most desperate human situations, in a highly aestheticised or beautiful way (Nehamas, 2001).
Among my other documentary work, I have helped facilitate Participatory Photo Projects (PPP) in Bangladesh and South Sudan that as part of a wider peacebuilding program apply theories of Communication for Social Change (CSC). These projects seek to use communication and media to form relationships and understanding between members of a community at risk of violence or conflict (Bau, 2014).
The broad range of effects and benefits of PPP on participants is a well-researched area, but often the visual material created is seen as a by-product, with a limited life beyond the project’s primary aims. In this paper I primarily examine the images themselves, created by the participants. The focus is on the uniquely intimate insight created by people from within their community, compared with the culturally distant and even imperialist viewpoint of the external international photographer (Brickell, et al, 2011).

PPP provides a new perspective, creating images which are closer to truth, conveying narratives which are owned by the participants and subjects themselves. This provides a direct conduit to the issues concerning the participant. Most usefully, it removes a layer of the negotiation needed to discover, explore and effectively communicate a situation and its associated issues.
As the images are created by the participants they too are products of and belong to the situation which they document. Keenan and Weizmann (2012) discuss the agency of objects presented as evidence in a forensic scenario; as the photographic image objectifies place, time and event, so the participatory image intensifies this agency by creating evidence from within the given situation.
Incorporating the lessons learnt from observing these participatory methods can transform our (documentary photographers’) ability to document and represent the activities of NGOs.
More broadly; do established conventions help or hinder when trying to communicate an authentic portrayal of a given situation?

Keywords:Peace, documentary, Photography, Documenatry Photography, Africa, Sierra Leone, Representation, Postconflict behavior, Conflict, Post Conflict Peacebuilding, Participatory
Subjects:X Education > X200 Research and Study Skills in Education
W Creative Arts and Design > W213 Visual Communication
W Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography
W Creative Arts and Design > W212 Multimedia Design
W Creative Arts and Design > W640 Photography
X Education > X300 Academic studies in Education
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:28135
Deposited On:02 Aug 2017 21:04

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