I came to England i thought I’d lost hope as a person. I felt weak
and alone and I thought I couldn’t make it. Now I feel stronger.”
Running a Project
How to Set Up Your Project: Planning and Management
Before you start it’s essential to be clear why and for what purpose you’re using photography. You need to ask: what’s the aim of the project and how is photography going to facilitate this? Photography is an extremely flexible tool, but it’s hard to design appropriate workshops unless you’ve got clear objectives.
The above example involves identifying clear needs, and a corresponding set of objectives; and designing a methodology which will help meet your objectives.
Consult with the young people participating about the
project purpose and design. They may identify priorities and issues which
you haven’t considered. Their engagement in the project design can
be central to ensuring the project meets their needs.
A good project team is essential. In most situations, running a photography project will require you to hire in external expertise in the form of photographer facilitators. These are people with skills in both the media and in participatory workshop practice. A skilled facilitator is someone used to working inclusively and informally, who understands group dynamics and the needs of vulnerable young people. Typically a facilitator enables and empowers participants and builds relationships, and is not the educational focal point. However, when working with young refugees who’re not used to participation, a facilitator will often mix facilitation with more traditional teaching practices. This helps build trust and confidence amongst the group.
As a general rule PhotoVoice facilitators always work in pairs or small teams with an experienced lead facilitator. There are often young people who will need individual support and a team of facilitators can divide themselves as needed between the group and individuals requiring additional support. An important part of PhotoVoice’s work with young refugees takes place at a one-to-one level, where the young people are supported, in a safe environment, to talk about their images and to think about what they want to photograph. Many young refugees, particularly separated youth, have limited opportunities to simply hang out with adults and this one-on-one attention is valuable for them.
In photography workshops with large groups of young people all the project team need to have clearly defined roles. Having a clear set of systems makes the team efficient, helps provide a safe space for young people, and underpins successful workshops. When there are lots of young people running around taking pictures, posing for pictures, running out of batteries, downloading images, peering at each other’s pictures, swapping prints etc chaos can ensue! Make sure that you have at least one facilitator with good technical skills including archiving, uploading, editing and viewing. It’s important that specific members of the team are given responsibility for archiving and equipment to ensure negatives/files/cameras are not lost.
There needs to be a formal introduction to the project where facilitators can meet each other; be informed about the project and the participants; familiarise themselves with the setting and objectives; and receive training in project systems.
If you’re running your own project without bringing in facilitators remember that this can be a learning experience for staff as well as for participants. Allow time to debrief and share thoughts and feelings amongst the team.
If you’re commissioning artists or photographers to facilitate the sessions, be clear about the resources and time they’ll need to deliver the project. Agree on the terms in a contract for ease of reference.
If you’re using translators, include them as much
as you can in planning and support them to become ‘co-facilitators’
as they’ll need to be comfortable and know what’s going on.
Unless you’re working with a pre-defined group, for example a school class, or a youth group, you’ll need to decide who is included in the group. You’ll need to decide whether to work exclusively (ie just with refugees) or inclusively. Some projects, especially with new arrivals in need of a safe space, work exclusively with refugees or even with a particular community of refugees. These projects can build confidence and security for young refugees, which help provide the foundations for building subsequent relationships between communities.
But many young refugees don’t want to be marked out or included on the basis of their refugee status, and want, more than anything else, to make friends in the local community and be treated like everyone else.
For a project manager, deciding on group composition can
be complex, and will depend on the context, the needs of the individuals,
how long they’ve been in the UK, broader integration policies, and
the project objectives. In addition to these complex considerations, there’ll
be more practical criteria for selection such as availability, interest,
age and gender.
It’s very important that any photography project for young refugees is firmly located within the generalised provision of professional support. There may be many issues relating to a young person’s health, mental well-being, living situation, asylum case, protection etc that arise during the project that are beyond the scope and training of the project staff to deal with. Many photography projects involve some level of partnership, for example, between a host organisation such as a refugee community organisation or a school, and an arts organisation. You might want to draw up a simple agreement which identifies the roles and responsibilities of each party. This helps establish a system for referring issues which arise to the appropriate support organisation. PhotoVoice has worked very successfully in partnership with Dost since 2002 and this partnership has been key to project success.
Working with staff such as youth workers or case-workers
who already have a strong existing relationship with the participant can
be an excellent way to support participants through a project. On the
other hand, it can be liberating for participants to engage with a project
as individuals, on their own terms. Either way, it’s important to
work with and understand the wider support network of young refugees.
Logistical issues are generally project specific. Here are some considerations:
Getting to the workshops
Types of cameras
Cameras can get lost, stolen and damaged so it’s
important to factor the costs of a few spare cameras into project budgets.
If there’s no printer on-site, then check out local photo labs for rates and printing times in advance. You might be able to negotiate a special rate. Alternatively, online printers can be good value and high quality.
Other workshop resources
The success of a good workshop will, to a large extent,
depend on thorough forward-planning. Only with a clear set of project
systems and procedures can facilitators provide a setting which allows
participants to feel secure, the most important foundation for all workshops.
It’s important to be responsive to the group you’re working
with, and flexible as unexpected things nearly always happen. This also
goes for the overall project schedule which might need adjusting to participant
needs. As a rule of thumb, thorough planning is best but you don’t
have to stick to it rigidly. Some key considerations in planning and preparation
At the outset, or as the project develops, it needs to be decided whether the images being produced by the young people will be viewed publicly. This might be friends and family, or a broader public audience. The great power of images lies in their ability to communicate and tell stories to an audience. Exhibitions, books or websites of images taken by young refugees can be used with great effect to raise public awareness and understanding about the experiences of refugees in this country.
Exhibition openings or image screenings can be a focal point in a project; when all involved can come together to celebrate what’s been achieved. It’s an opportunity for the young people to take great pride in their work, as they see other people take their work seriously and take note of what they have to say.
Decisions around the public use of images will depend on the project aims and objectives, whether there’s a clear strategic role for public communications and how the young people feel about showing their work beyond the group. At some point a conscious and inclusive decision regarding the public use of images needs to be made. There can be protection and support implications which need to be actively considered.
It’s not always appropriate for images to be used publicly. Much of the value of photography can be in the therapeutic process of making albums, diaries and histories. This may be a highly personal process that participants don’t want to share publicly. At times the prospect of a public event can put harmful pressure on a project – maybe because the young people are unsure about what to expect or because there’s the pressure to create images that will conform to audience’s expectations. Project managers need to be sensitive to such pressures and not expect refugees to become vehicles for raising issues. Sometimes, projects are a space to escape problems, not necessarily a place to deal with them.
Young people will often have little idea of the impact
of showing their work publicly. It’s essential that they’re
appropriately prepared and supported, and are able to opt out at any point.
• Be clear about your project purpose and plan objectives
Copyright 2008 PhotoVoice
P: 020 7033 3878
UK Charity no: 1096598