PARTICIPATORY PHOTOGRAPHY & SELF-EMPOWERMENT IN DIFFERENT NATIONS
part of Volunteering Qld’s Project Creatives.
Introduction Volunteering Qld’s Project Creatives continues to explore the critical role creative disciplines and creative people play in providing new models of engagement and action in social change and community work. This article explores three different non-profit organisations that have used collaborative photography to enable locals to empower themselves. Written by Alice Baroni a volunteer with the Education, Research and Policy Unit of Volunteering Qld. Alice is undertaking a PhD at the Queensland University of Technology, exploring (photo) journalism, participatory content creation and community photography in Brazil’s low income suburbs. She is part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and a Brazilian research group ‘Storytellers and Narratives: Contemporary Journalism’. Two of the initiatives explored in this publication are Viva Favela and Imagens do Povo that are ideologically and physically supported by, respectively, Viva Rio and Observatório de Favelas, based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ‘Favela’ is often translated simply as ‘slum’ or ‘shantytown’, but these terms connote negative characteristics such as shortage, poverty, and deprivation, which end up stigmatising these low-income suburbs. Fotografi Senza Frontiere (FSF) (Photographers Without Borders) is an Italian non-governmental organisation that gathers together a group of photographers who aim to provide youth from extreme regions in Nicaragua, Algeria, Argentina, Panama, Uganda, and Palestine with skills to photograph and document their own reality by establishing permanent photo laboratories. This idea, which is similar to that of Viva Favela and Imagens do Povo, is to enable youth to become professional photographers as a means of self-representation and self-empowerment. Afterwards, students become educators in established photographic labs so as to pass on what they have learnt through FSF’s photographic courses. Before exploring the way these community-based organisations operate and empower people within marginalised communities in different nations, I will explore the term conscientização coined by the influential Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire.
Teaching and being taught Freire (1997) coined the term conscientização to speak of the awakening of a critical consciousness which expresses itself in dialogue with reality. In different moments and texts, Freire states the importance of dialogue for freedom, rigorous thought, and independent self-consciousness. Opposing the idea of the thinker who shuts him/herself up in his/her office or laboratory, Freire argues that rigorous analysis can also emerge through conversation. In a ‘spoken’ book, when he engaged in a conversation with António Faudez, he said:
I think that here, in privacy, yes, but at the same time open to the world, including the world of nature outside your office, we can engage in serious and rigorous thought - and are doing so. The style is different, because the language is spoken – with a more colloquial touch, more feeling, more freedom. (Freire, Freire and Macedo 1998, 188)
Against the Brazilian educational tradition, Freire advocates for an education that exchanges ideas, encourages debates and discussions, works with students, and offers them the means for independent self-consciousness, because he believes “only through dialogue do we fulfil our ontological and historical vocation of becoming fully human” (Christians 2010, 18-19). Similarly, the initiatives Viva Favela, Imagens do Povo, and Fotografi Senza Frontiere have pursued collaborative projects with people within marginalised communities through a process of intense dialogue. The workshops, seminars, and activities are all planned having as their main aim to fulfil communities’ demands. Furthermore, like Freire (2000, 27) – who argues that oppressed people are the ones best positioned to understand their context and the consequences of an oppressive society – proponents of these community-based initiatives argue that people within marginalised communities, for suffering the effects of oppression, prejudice, and deprivation are better prepared to understand their reality and, thus, to tell their own stories.
Viva Favela and Imagens do Povo The Viva Favela portal was founded in 2001 by the NGO Viva Rio as a response to favela dwellers’ desire to have a magazine produced by the people, for the people, and with the people. The newsroom was formed by 15 favela residents from different low income suburbs in Rio, plus professional journalists who selected and trained them to become what later became known as ‘community correspondents’ (Ramalho 2007, 15). According to Peter Lucas, “Viva Favela is not just a local web portal or an online magazine about favelas. It’s part of an international movement of visual inclusion to change dominant media” (Lucas 2008, np). The Viva Favela portal marked a new way of looking at and talking about the favelas because, for the first time, favela residents could tell their own stories, using their own language and codes. In addition, the Viva Favela portal attempted to present the favelas in a positive light, which contrasts with current discourses that, since the advent of the first Rio’s favela Morro da Providência (Providential Hill), have regarded them as places of criminality, vagabondage, and social problems. Since its foundation, the project Viva Favela has inspired the creation of other initiatives, such as the agency-school Imagens do Povo, which was founded by Ripper in 2004. Interviewed in December 2010, Mayra Jucá (2010), who is the current coordinator of the project, commented that the main aim of Viva Favela is not the production of content, but rather the consciousness raising of favela dwellers, who begin looking at themselves and their neighbourhoods critically. This process is followed by the realisation that they can have a voice by publishing their own stories on the website and other social networks. Once they become community correspondents, they also become the voice of their communities, which until then had no visibility. This process strengthens the dialogue between favela residents and community correspondents because they begin exploring their neighbourhoods in the search for news and stories, and this leads them to get to know their neighbours by listening to their stories and complaints. Through this process of dialogue, favela dwellers start proposing assignments to
community correspondents and photographers who become the voices of their own communities. The advent of community correspondents, and the generation of stories from the ‘inside’, represents the birth of the production of counter-information about favelas and their residents. In November 2010, I interviewed Nando Dias (2010), who became a community photographer for Viva Favela when the project was founded and later on worked as a mainstream photojournalist for the daily Jornal do Brasil. During the interview, he said: “The concept of Viva Favela is to show that there are positive, good things inside the favela in order to break down boundaries and to present that the favela is not what is shown by the mainstream media” (Dias 2010). The agency-school Imagens do Povo (Images of the People), which is physically and ideologically supported by the NGO Observatório de Favelas (Favelas Watch) is a project inspired by a renowned Brazilian photographer João Roberto Ripper, who was invited by Observatório de Favelas to document favela communities from a different perspective. At that time, Ripper met photographers from Complexo da Maré who were starting out on their journeys as photographers. This encounter made Ripper realise that those photographers were the ones who could produce images of the favela communities from an inside perspective because they were rooted in their communities. Hence, Ripper suggested to the Observatório de Favelas that it could create the agency-school Imagens do Povo, which would include a photographic agency, an image database, and the School of Popular Photographers.
The School of Popular Photographers The School of Popular Photographers is a critical school of photography that stems from Paulo Freire’s (1997, 19) notion of conscientização which speaks of the awakening of a critical consciousness. Classes though are not just theoretical; students are encouraged to create a photo essay, an installation and/or even a short-documentary at the end of the course. They are stimulated to apply the knowledge they have accumulated during the classes. Interviewed by Planel (2009), Kita Pedroza, a former coordinator of the project, pointed out the characteristics of the school. She demonstrated that it: • • • • • •
focusses on favela dwellers, but the place of living is not a barrier invites people to attend the course as listeners (for people who live outside the favela) holds one class per year, but its periodicity relies on external financial support contributes knowledge of photography, which is more than technical knowledge builds an interchange between mainstream professionals and people who have graduated from the project facilitates the relationship between the mainstream media and the favelas.
Ripper commented that the School of Popular Photographers has been presented as a new way of doing photography in favelas. From Ripper’s perspective, photography can be conceived from three different parameters: (1) the first is a result of the mixture of the photographer’s personality with the professional beliefs of the media organisation; (2) the second, mixes together the personality of an outsider, who goes into a certain community, attempting to capture its identity, with that of the community; and (3) the third that combines the personality of the insider (community photographer) with that of the community, which ends up yielding benefits to the groups that were documented. Photography here is conceived as a mutual agreement between the photographer who is eager to capture the ‘instant moment’ and the subject(s) who has to show willingness to be photographed. It is a dialogical interaction, which takes place over time. Since their foundations, Viva Favela and Imagens do Povo have run projects that provide favela residents with the skills to take, edit, and print their own images; these images enable a community-based framing and documentation of favela life, personalities and issues. Furthermore, these NGOs have developed a range of public venues for displaying these images, aiming to minimise the invisibility that favela dwellers feel in Brazilian political life.
“THE ADVENT OF COMMUNITY CORRESPONDENTS, AND THE GENERATION OF STORIES FROM THE ‘INSIDE’, REPRESENTS THE BIRTH OF THE PRODUCTION OF COUNTER-INFORMATION ABOUT FAVELAS AND THEIR RESIDENTS.”
Fotografi Senza Frontiere Fotografi Senza Frontiere (FSF) gathers a group of photographers who aim to provide youths with the skills to photograph and document their own reality by establishing permanent photo laboratories in different nations. Giorgio Palmera (Planel 2012a, 2012b; Pugliese 2012) who is one of the founders of Fotografi Senza Frontiere said that the idea of creating the NGO emerged during the time he lived in Nicaragua. During a seminar that was held at O Globo newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, Palmera (Planel 2012b) commented that he went to Nicaragua to photograph street children for an Italian magazine and, as such, he went into the streets searching for the most dramatic images of children based on his own assumptions about the lives of street children: kids in a context of poverty, drug addiction, and hopelessness. Once his job was done, he realised that it was not enough. He personally wanted to stay in Nicaragua so as to learn from that experience. Then, Palmera found a job with the NGO Terra Nuova, where he began teaching photography to street working kids who, simultaneously, began documenting their own daily lives. Palmera (Planel 2012b) said that when he saw their photographs he realised that he was wrong. He was amazed by the images of love, enjoyment, and fellowship. Palmera commented that it was this life changing experience that made him shut down his photographic studio in Italy in order to search for a different photographic understanding due to the realisation that there were different ways of looking at others’ experiences. Simultaneously, he realised that it was necessary to leave behind some photographic equipment with those kids in order to provide them with an opportunity for self-representation. In so doing, he established a prize; the most enthusiastic kid would gain a camera at the end of the course. The 12-year-old boy Saúl Palma was chosen; nowadays, he is the chief of the photo lab of Fotografi Senza Frontiere in Nicaragua. He is now 27. In 1999, Palmera went back to Rome, when he founded the NGO La Pandilla (street children) in partnership with an Italian film-maker Simonetta Giordano. This was followed by the foundation of Fotografi Senza Frontiere in 2002, which has undertaken community-based projects in Nicaragua, Algeria, Panama, Palestine, Argentina and Uganda. Palmera’s personal experience in Nicaragua is reflective of the philosophy of Fotografi Senza Frontiere, an organisation which believes in people’s capacity to tell their own stories, taking ownership of their own endeavours. In informal conversation via e-mail, Sergio Lo Cascio (2012), who is responsible for video projects with FSF, pointed out that unlike other international organisations whose endeavours end together with the time of their projects, Fotografi Senza Frontiere provides the people with photographic training courses and equipment so as to enable them to run the FSF photo lab themselves. The students of the project later on become educators who pass on what they have learnt previously, using the FSF photo lab as a centre for the learning and production of photography. This aims to break down the process of dependency which humanitarian intervention in critical regions across the world tends to generate. FSF is mainly concerned with enabling the locals to become professional photographers in order for them to be able to express themselves by telling their own stories through their photographs, and, in the future, through video projects. FSF establishes its media centres in certain regions by providing equipments (photographic machine, recorder, computer, printer, and internet connection) so as to enable the locals to carry out their own projects. This phase is followed by educational training processes. Firstly, FSF provides students with a darkroom in order to teach them analogical photography. Photographers without borders believe that this practice enables students to have a wider understanding of photography. Only in Gaza they do not use the darkroom due to the checkpoints and difficulties facing them whilst developing their endeavours there. However, the darkroom is not left at the media centre, as it is used only for learning purposes. This stage is followed by the use of digital photographic cameras that are left in the FSF lab once the photographic course is concluded. The methodology adopted by FSF can be interestingly juxtaposed with Hamelink’s (1996, 142) argument about the importance of shifting from ‘empowerment’ to ‘self-empowerment’. Hamelink (1996) argues that different approaches of empowerment depart from the principle of ‘giving voice to the voiceless’, however, whereas these approaches result in positive outcomes,
in the long term, they end up leading to dependency between who is empowering and who is empowered. Drawing from Freire’s notion of conscientização, Hamelink speaks of the importance of the shift from empowerment to the notion of self-empowerment. Self-empowerment means the people’s capacity to decide about their own destiny in order to have control over their own lives.
People’s media are owned and controlled by the powerless with the intention to empower themselves. They are a direct confrontation of the disempowered with the dominant communication structure. They select different themes and discourses, tell their own stories and articulate their fears and dreams in the cultural idiom of their own communities (Hamelink 1996, 142).
The independent media centres established by FSF emerge as a remarkable example of self-empowerment due to the autonomy the people have to control and run the photo lab, enabling the locals to empower themselves. Fotografi Senza Frontiere, the photographers without borders, are those who believe in the project and commit themselves to keep it alive by building new partnerships and networks in order to develop further initiatives. This kind of practice and relationship with the locals also happens to a certain extent and in different ways in Viva Favela and Imagens do Povo.
Reflections Community photographers strive to understand their own lives through the research of the development of their own communities. By listening to life stories told by seniors in their suburbs, community photographers recreate their own identity, whilst the dialogue with their fellow neighbours is strengthened. Within this context, community photographers use photography as a means of building a visual record of their communities in order to document, store and communicate their culture. This pursuit that emerges as a dialogical process between photographers and their fellow neighbours manifests itself as self-empowerment as long as their practices lay the bases to an understanding of their own life story and surroundings that leads to the construction of their own identities. Furthermore, it provides future generations with a visual archive with regard to the development of their communities. I wish to mention some of the minor differences between Rio’s community-based initiatives, Imagens do Povo and Viva Favela, and the Italian NGO Fotografi Senza Frontiere. The Viva Favela initiative allows locals to participate in and access media; however, the decision-making processes remain under staff control. Although favela dwellers do not take part in decision-making processes, the Viva Favela project provides them with media education and the skills to become active media producers. The agency-school Imagens do Povo allows its students to provide feedback to the coordinators, who take this feedback seriously; therefore, a greater level of input into some decision-making processes is evident when compared with Viva Favela. In addition, Ripper founded Imagens do Povo, and although he does not run it, its photographers are strongly influenced by his professional history and philosophy. Nowadays, Ripper collaborates with the project, and Joana Mazza (2012), who is the current coordinator of the project, commented that Ripper functions as a counsellor for Imagens do Povo. Regarding how these three community-based media organisations are controlled, Imagens do Povo stands in between Fotografi Senza Frontiere and Viva Favela. Although Fotografi Senza Frontiere establishes photo laboratories in certain regions in the world to enable locals to take autonomous decisions with regard to media centres, Viva Favela’s decision-making processes remain in the hands of its staff. The analysis of Imagens do Povo, Viva Favela and Fotografi Senza Frontiere leads me to an understanding that community photographers regardless of whether they are based in Brazil, Nicaragua, Algeria, Uganda, Panama, Palestine and Argentina have in common an attempt to document, store and communicate their cultural heritage so as to generate a visual record of the development of their communities. Resisting forgetfulness, community photographers attempt to provide future generations with information about their history, culture and traditional knowledge.
“...PHOTOGRAPHY IS UNDERSTOOD LESS AS A TECHNICAL APPARATUS AND MORE AS A DEVICE OF MEMORY AS WELL AS A TOOL FOR SELF-RECOGNITION AND CHANGE.”
However, they do not want to feed future generations with any portrayal, on the contrary, they strongly advocate for the importance of creating positive images of their communities. Documentary photography in marginalised communities is about the documentation of the daily struggles for survival that emerge through a myriad of images of the everyday life of forsaken communities. Images that call for an acknowledgement that everyone has a right to be portrayed in a context of dignity and integrity. Or in Lucas’ words, “everyone has a physical life, an intellectual life, a spiritual life, an emotional life, a life of the senses and an aesthetic life” (Lucas 2012, 13), which are the core values of human dignity. Through the documentation of their everyday lives, community photographers and their fellow neighbours re-signify their places of living and themselves by adding positive values to things and habits that they did not value before. By doing research into the development of their suburbs, community photographers go through a personal process of building their own sense of belonging and identity that leads to self-empowerment. Within this context, photography is understood less as a technical apparatus and more as a device of memory as well as a tool for self-recognition and change.
Correspondent 2.0 by Viva Favela http://vivafavela.com.br/videos/correspondente-20 Fotografi Senza Frontiere http://youtu.be/AUEy_ATYZ7U Imagens do Povo http://youtu.be/v4M35ctvpEc
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Cover flickr.com/photos/yhlee/ p4 flickr.com/photos/livegym/ p7 flickr.com/photos/moop/
This publication was published in January 2013. ÂŠ Volunteering Qld