Participatory Photography is a great way to collaborate with those that you are photographing and getting them completely involved in the project that you are embarking on! Participatory Photography is a form of research photography and it literally means engaging the participants in your project and allowing them to be a part of the image making process. In other words, they are fully immersed in your project and own the narrative as much as you do.
Many organisations especially I/NGO’s and Charities that have projects/campaigns involving Refugees, survivors of abuse or conflict and a range of other sensitive issues, tend to use this form of Photography as a way of being ethical and a way of getting the participants fully involved enabling them to shape and tell the story In a way that they feel more comfortable with. Instead of a Photographer coming along with their camera and serving as a ‘parachute photographer’ that comes in, snaps and then leaves, this is more of a gradual method which consists of you spending time with the participant and really engaging them for an extended period of time.
There are many different ways in which participatory photography can be carried out such as;
The Use of Archival Materials:
One method of collaboration is by getting your participants to photograph archival materials, this can range from anything such as old photographs, documents, old notes, post cards and the list goes on. As long as they photograph it, send it to you and you end up including it in your body of work, this serves as a form of collaboration between you and the participant.
Participants Taking Pictures:
Another way is by getting your Participants to actually take pictures as well, whether with their phones, a small point and shoot camera or whatever medium they choose. This again serves as a form of Participatory Photography enabling them to determine and control the way that they are portrayed and seen by the viewers.
Content Made By Them:
Another way to collaborate with your Participants is by getting them to do activities that end up producing content which will be included in the final body of work. Whether this is them making drawings/paintings, making objects such as sculptures, arts and crafts or even writing things down consistently in a journal dedicated to the project, all of these, and similar is another form of Participatory Photography.
The benefits of this form of photography is that it allows your visual story to have more depth, more intimacy and permits the viewer to have a deeper understanding of what is going on, especially in the life of the participants. It is an amazing way to collaborate and interact with others and allows the viewer to receive more information as supposed to one photographer taking pictures of someone. This photography style is certainly one to be explored and is one that can lead to an avalanche of opportunities!
P.S PhotoVoice is a fantastic organisation based in the UK that focuses on ethical storytelling through the use of Participatory Photography. The organisations website is full of various examples of how participatory photography projects have been carried out so certainly give the website a visit.