Photography belongs to the traditional methods of visual anthropology and for decades, it was seen as an objective way to record and reveal reality. Anthropologists used to document a culture and its people, and disregard the inherent subjectivity, along with the power structures. Nowadays, introspection and reflective methodologies are important aspects of research. For this project, I was strongly inspired by the guidelines of PhotoVoice, a participatory action research (PAR) method. It seeks to bring positive social change in marginalised communities and minorities by providing photographic training. Seeing the world directly through the lense of these women, I hope to better understand how they perceive the land and its importance for the development of their identities.
The photography sessions marked the tangible start of the project with the women. One evening, I sat down with all of them at the bar where Jessica worked, and I presented the idea of taking pictures together, using the guidelines of PhotoVoice. We listed several topics, and I asked them to pick a theme in which they were most interested. I informed myself about their visual cultures, how photography was used in their families, and I learned about their skills and curiosity for this medium of expression and representation. Two of them had previous experiences and were eager to practice their passion as part of the project. The three others had never manipulated a professional camera, and among them, only one was curious to try it out. We organized several photography sessions during the summer with all the women interested and available, either in small groups or just with me. At the beginning, I would give them my camera, and explain the settings. Each woman decided which places they wanted to photograph, what they wanted to share about their homeland. Later on, I borrowed a camera, so that we could take pictures together. Marie Kristine even bought her own camera, which highly supported the production of photographs and the development of her artistic practice (see her website here). Finally, the photographs were collected during the initial fieldwork as well as online, posted on a private Facebook group. For the comments, I came back half a year after my first stay in 2016, and sat down with them individually. By then, I had begun to program the website, so we could do the review process in-situ, meaning select the photographs they wanted to display, and add comments, date and place directly in the code. The work of the visual anthropologist Sarah Pink inspired me greatly because of her ethics and her methodologies. She writes: «Ethnographers should be interested in how informants use the content of the images as vessels in which to invest meanings and through which to produce and represent their knowledge, self-identities, experiences and emotions.»* The photography sessions combined my own experience and practice of facilitating photography with youths, as well as theoretical and practical insights from visual anthropology and the participatory action research Photovoice. I saw it as a way to build connection with the women (by spending time together doing something we enjoy), to foster their exploration and creativity with digital technology, and to co-produce an online space where their perceptions can unfold. *Sarah Pink is a Professor of Design and Media Ethnography in Melbourne, Australia - Doing Visual Ethnography