6th October 2019
In August of this year I was lucky enough to be awarded an Arts Council of Wales R&D development grant to continue my work with the documentary photography series ‘Becoming Jane’, an exploration of the Gwynedd and Conwy transgender community. The aim is to develop this body of work further while also extending the project and connecting with our groups within our community. The brief for the project is as follows;
“This is a documentary photographic research project looking at the lives of different groups of people within modern day society.
Within contemporary society which is impacted by a political climate of increasing exclusion, division and a ‘blame culture’ it often appears that individuals are becoming more and not less marginalised. Our media regularly reports increased violence, a growth of intolerance, racism, bigotry and antipathy towards anyone seen as ‘different’.
In this project I wish to examine if and how life has changed for members of British society, those who have come to live within it and those who have chosen to opt out of it. Asking questions about whether our concepts of community have changed over the past forty years? I am interested in looking at our similarities as human beings rather than focusing on our differences, although I am also interested in celebrating each person’s uniqueness.
The aim of the project is to identify what constitutes community and how do people feel about the community in which they live. It is a collection of photographic material in the form of portraits and stories.
These questions are designed to be open ended, for you to share your perspective of life within British society and the community. Please feel free to be open and honest. The data collected will be held confidentiality, although quotes will be used along with your portraits with your permission.”
The time line for this piece of work is a maximum of six months as it’s not intended to be a finished piece of work, but it gives the opportunity to develop a plan. Within this plan I aim to hold three or four focus groups to develop the questions I wish to ask and to identify groups with whom I wish to work.
So far I have made contact with the Bangor Muslim group, plus someone who works with refugees. I have also approached travellers and van dwellers.
In this blog I will discuss my progress and use it as a way of charting the work, keeping to deadlines and setting milestones and targets. It will also serve as a way to reflect on the work for future progression.
Within this work of telling peoples stories I feel a great need to represent people fairly and in a true light. Much of my photographic work ties in with my psychology background. As a psychologist I trained and worked as an ethnographic researcher. I specialised in observational research and interviewing writing numerous papers on my analysis and the stories of those I spent time with. The only thing missing was the images which I would have liked to make, but was not able to.
The reason for this was down to ethical issues. In my role we guaranteed anonymity. We protected our interviewees and as a non-participant observer I needed to retain the boundaries emphasised by my psychology training.
As a photographer that training runs deep and the ethics of making true and sympathetic work is important to me. In my arts council work with marginalised and disadvantaged groups my primary aim is to collect a true and accurate account of their life, recounted and portrayed with simplicity and gentleness. I feel an affinity to those that I photograph as their lives intertwine with mine. I have been a teenager and I empathise, my friends are travellers, transgender and immigrants and my daughter is one of the young hidden homeless people, albeit in London rather than Wales.
For my dissertation I wish to examine the ethics of visual story telling and documentary work. Many photographers have spent time capturing lives, some with great sensitivity others with less care for the feelings of their subjects. In this blog I will examine social documentary from a historical context and discuss how modern day photographers consider ethics in their work.