Friday, May 26, 2006

Speaking without words

One of the things I love the most about photography is its ability to change the way we see things. If you were to take a dozen people and give them each a camera and turn them loose on one city block they will all bring back very different pictures. Similarly if you took the same twelve and told them to take a picture of one specific item you'd get 12 different looks at it. We see things differently when we take a picture and we see things differently when we see other peoples' photography.

With this in mind I was happy to head on downtown last night to attend a showing for an event known as photovoice. Photovoice is an interesting approach to getting the word out on social change. Since 1992 there have been photovoice events following the lead of Caroline Wang who had the idea in the first place. Ranging from Flint, Michigan to rural China to here in Canada projects have taken place using the photovoice methodology, but what method is it?

Photovoice strives to take those who aren't usually heard and make their message accessible to society. By supplying them with disposable cameras and some basic training they are told to document the world around them. To give the world their view of their surroundings and situation and the results are impressive. People who are poor, mentally ill, victims of violence and the like are turned loose and the visions they provide are at once informative, disturbing and beautiful. From photos of art by relatives that show us a love and respect for one another to a street in desperate need of a stop sign we are taken on a journey through the city we all think we know. Messages that document the laziness and neglect of our once proud city document the need for change. Pictures of people offering help and people lost in the cracks show us the world that so many pretend doesn't exist. We see beautiful buildings of old crumbling alongside sparkling and expansive glass and steel monoliths. From religion to architecture to litter and personal needs, we see the world around us that is hiding just beneath the suburban veneer that makes life for so many comfortable.

The show itself couldn't have been in a better place either. In the heart of the downtown core the gallery sits next to one of our city's longest standing problems. Encompassing most of a city block, the Lister building sits as a decaying reminder of the glories of the past. A monument to neglect and indecision it is the constant source of conflict and concern. The street corner it sits on shares the intersection with two massive shopping malls, a parking lot, some small businesses and a restaurant where you can buy yourself a $40.00 steak.

Does the program work? I have to say that it definitely does. Talking to the participants, the photographers themselves, shows you that they are thrilled that anyone would come and see their pictures at all. The show saw a steady of stream of people in the time I spent there and many were amazed at the pictures as well as disturbed. Talking to the people themselves was as fascinating as the pictures themselves. The pride and joy that they showed was as apparent in their faces as it was in their photos. While the photos beings shown and the turnout themselves are indicating that the event was a success it is only the beginning. A talk with some of the organizers reveals that this is simply the stepping stone to larger things. This is the third photovoice event in our city and it is only in its first stages. The groundwork will hopefully set off a revolution that will spread like a spark begins a mighty blaze. The photovoice process has been set up and has been shown to work so now the organizers are hoping that interest will grow. The resources are available for people to set up an event in their community and the organizers are there to help get it all together. Will this be the spark that lights the fire of change? We can hope or we can actually try to fan the spark, which will you do?

Take a minute to see the world through it's own eyes......


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Seems like quite a good idea. I hope that it takes off.

10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Martini said...

Who is able/permitted/invited to view the photographs, and what is the time frame for the photographers to have their work done by?

1:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

You take amazing pics...went to your photo site and was impressed.

8:48:00 PM  
Blogger Le laquet said...

I take my camera everywhere, I love the instantness of capturing a moment.

1:56:00 AM  
Blogger dan said...

wow, thanks for that, pete.

it's amazing how since the advent of digital, how many people are getting into this field.

i was always a 35mm film man but now take a small powershot a75 everywhere with me. it's not quite as good as an slr but then i'm not david bailey.

cheers for the links.

4:29:00 AM  
Blogger PBS said...

You have really opened my eyes. I was never that much into photography, oh sure I like looking at other people's pictures and understand the "share" value of photos. But it was the fact that every photo is a point of view and would be different as each person is different is what intrigued me.

That project is a great one and we should do something like that here.

8:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Happy and Blue 2 said...

Liked the post and the idea.

9:55:00 AM  
Blogger wondy woman said...

I'm going on over to check out your links, Pete - great post!

3:30:00 PM  
Blogger Nyx said...

Amazing idea, I hope it does take the world by storm so we can all get a different perspective on life.

8:04:00 PM  
Blogger Leesa said...

Wow..great idea :)

9:07:00 PM  

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