Photography Workshop, MSc in Urban Development Planning, 2nd November 2018

My workshop formed part of the preparation for fieldwork with community groups starting next week, which provides the basis for the coursework for this practice-based module on the MSc in Urban Development Planning. The orientation of the module is indicated by this statement from the programme notes:

The impact of this [Opportunity Area based, profit-driven] development approach on communities across London has been overwhelmingly negative, leading to a significant loss of social housing, green space and community facilities. Throughout the planning system, little weight has been given to the impact of such development models on the existing and historical socio-economic fabric of London. In fact, such negative effects on local communities have worsened despite on-going rhetorical commitment to address deprivation, exclusion, discrimination and social inequality, creating a paradox at the heart of London planning. This project asks: What is the role of planning in reinforcing this reality and how might planning in London better respond to the diverse needs and aspirations of all Londoners?

My workshop session followed a session on research design, interviews and focus groups by Ignacia Osul, a recent PhD graduate from DPU. She introduced the session by talking about her own study. Most striking, for me, about this work is the use she made of participant photography, using images produced by local people to explore the nature, and politics, of home-making in the community. These images were placed along timelines to get a sense of day to day activities, and priorities were explored with participants. She also explored activities that participants felt could not be photographed (for reasons of safety and privacy, for instance), asking them to draw or otherwise represent these activities. Lots to learn for my own project. The session also reinforced the resonance of the participatory approach taken by the DPU and my own (academic and photographic) work. There is a short film and description of the early stages of Ignacia’s work is here.

My workshop ran for 3 hours, and comprised of an introduction to my photographic work, discussion of the uses of photography in research and practice, and critical engagement with the work of a number of contemporary photographic artists (see list here), interspersed by group activities and feedback. Description of the session as follows:

In this session we will explore the use of photography (and other media) as both an element in the social research process and in the mediation of the outcomes of research. By engaging with examples of the work of photographers engaged with understanding the lives of communities and individuals we will consider how photography might play a part in our own work as practitioners and researchers, and in your forthcoming fieldwork. We will also consider how still images can be used in conjunction with other media (text, maps, data visualisation, video, audio) and how we engage with readers and audiences (through print, exhibitions, online, social media).

I set a preparatory activity, which everyone did.

Take a number of images of the area in which you live (either digital camera or phone images are fine – make sure you have a way of showing and sharing the images with others). Select four that you think give a sense of the place and/or say something about your relationship to, experience of and feelings about the area. Be prepared to discuss the four images with other members of the group at the workshop. Do the task quickly – don’t overthink it.

These images were used in the following activity:

Take turns to present your images to the group. Talk about each image, and consider what you hoped the image would represent and communicate. How do the images work together? Do they need captions or a commentary, can they be combined in different ways to carry a different message, is there anything missing, or misleading, are there any technical issues that you would want to address? Select one image that best expresses what you want to communicate about the place. What makes it the best image? Summarise the discussion and note down issues to raise in a whole group plenary.

The session went very well, and was enthusiastically received (pretty good for a Friday afternoon). The group appeared to be inspired to actively consider how image making can be incorporated into their work. We generated a number of ideas about work that could be done with each of the community partners. I will join one of the groups (Rooms of our Own, a social enterprise advocating for funding of women’s spaces) next week, and will meet with all the groups, and accompany them on fieldwork, over the next month. In addition to the opportunities generated with the community partners, other possible sites for my project work were identified, and I’ll follow these up next week.