Richard Downes attends PhotoVoice’s launch of ‘Able Voices: Participatory photography as a tool for for inclusion’. His prejudice shatters like glass
Have you been to Shape Arts new pop up art gallery at 40 Gracechurch Street, London yet? If not, a treat awaits. Performance artists in residence, representations you want to touch and eat and in one section a PhotoVoice exhibition created by the marginalised and vulnerable groups. PhotoVoice strive to include in their pursuit of promoting and supporting the use of participatory photography as a tool for social change.
The exhibition consists of photographs and tactile representations with an auditory guide produced by blind photographers. One holds my attention. I am shocked to see a man hanging from a branch in a park. At least this is what I see. The image is actually of a blind man jumping in the air, reaching out, touching, enjoying the world. Shamefully I do not record the photographers name.
The launch followed a workshop on Inclusive Photography – a series of tips and exercises on how to include disabled people’. I understand one exercise included closing your eyes to appreciate the difficulties a blind person might have using a camera. Its sounds like that old disability awareness chestnut. My hackles are rising. I talk to John McCafferty, a wheelchair using photographer and PhotoVoice Bursary Winner. He convinces me of the techniques usefulness in understanding what he needs to do as a photographer or support worker to guide a blind person around the intricacies of a camera. My prejudices are removed.
John has a story to tell. He became a wheelchair user, spent time in rehab and lived in a care home, awaiting accessible housing. He was depressed. A care worker with PhotoVoice links introduced a group of residents to photography. They pursued the life of the home. He discovered a new way of seeing. He developed an acuity in looking for new ways to tell stories. He was enthralled. He and photography came together like a fish to water. He studied it. MA followed BA. He has exhibited, been published. Art has given him meaning.
His most recent project involved attending SEN schools for people with learning disabilities who he recognises as under-represented, whose life experiences are under publicised. His photographs show pride, strength, humour, involvement in activities.
However, there are things in the work that get me going again. His subjects are not named and never will be except perhaps by fore name. He is constrained by Data Protection. He had been told where and when it was possible to photograph. Limitations where applied through safeguarding. Standards of behaviour were adhered too. There used to be such freedom in photography. MOD land was off limits but otherwise we were free to photograph.
Would I be able to work with these restrictions? John conformed in order to get to tell peoples stories. The images speak for themselves and a bonus came to the fore. The children were interested in him, intrigued at what he was doing. John was now in a position to introduce them to photography. He left them a gift that would enable self representation. My prejudices are tempered by this.
I spend a long time with Helen Cammock talking about the resource: its aims, its objectives, its usefulness. She is described as one of the lead writers and editors. We explore our own lives as photographers, as creative people but we also go back to the resource which is best described by PhotoVoice themselves who claim the resource provides: “practical and ethical guidelines for anyone wishing to ensure that their photography workshops are inclusive, whether they are working exclusively with disabled students or with mixed ability groups”. I have reviewed this claim and can confirm its truth.
PhotoVoice are on exhibition at Shape's pop-up gallery at 40 Gracehcurch Street until 31 May. Visit Shape's website for more information.
You can find out more about PhotoVoice online resource and DVD at /www.photovoice.org/html/inclusivemethodology/index.htm