New forums for documentary – The Documentary Project

Research Point

Research the current activities of Photovoice and some of their archived projects.

PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story

If you want to know why Photography in particular they also give the answer to this.

Photography is a highly flexible tool that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers, and can be adapted to all abilities. Its power lies in its dual role as both art form and way to record facts.

It provides an accessible way to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues.

Its low cost and ease of dissemination encourages sharing and increases the potential to generate dialogue and discussion.

The aim of this research is to look at the ‘the documentary value and visual qualities’ of the images produced, but it was also interesting to look deeply into the charitable organisation, especially at their aims, ensuring that they:

  • Design and develop projects specific to communities, issues and needs, and based on engagement with them
  • Promote the imagery produced from the projects utilising media, events and exhibitions
  • Provide consultancy, training, materials and resources to organisations wishing to use participatory photography in their work

They also have a statement of ethical  practice.

Every project they have participated in is visible via their projects link. Whilst not every image undertaken for that specific project may not be available on their site you can research further and discover more at individual links.

Without diving too much into the ethics or consequence of the projects I found this article which summed up or mentioned many of the issues previously covered within the course e.g representing a different culture without being stereotypical, ethics and possible exploitation, making the ugly look beautiful, environmental issues and wanting to campaign to change something,  using ‘people, landscape and still life to convey the true and often unheard story,’ the use of social media and different mediums to convey a message, although as yet I don’t think the images were taken by the indigenous population.



Having looked at quite a few of the projects there is huge difference in the visual quality between them, but feel all have a documentary value as I’ll explain…

The images produced and presented are representative of a community and the narratives they wish to tell so in terms of documentary value, the key aspect to consider is the insider viewpoint and therefore, assumed authenticity. Whilst there is the argument as put forward by Solomon-Goudeau (2005) that an insider can lose objectivity, in the majority of the issues I have seen being discussed the minor details are not the important ones, especially in the case of homelessness or drug abuse.

When looking at the visual qualities, this also varies. Probably dependent on the amount of instruction given to the participants, the equipment used and possibly even the age range. The images on the website come across as more ‘professional’ whilst those I researched online were more amateurish snapshots in appearance. Having said that, it was interesting to note that despite the age, background or narrative many signifiers, symbols etc were naturally being used to tell the stories.

Whilst the inclusion of multiple photographers could also lead to a lack of a distinctive visual style, I found that given the topics covered, most images within the same project had an over arching similarity to them. I strongly believe that documentary images can be more conceptual, or blurry as it should be more about the narrative, the people and the aim of the project rather than an aesthetically perfect image. The use of text, music and video did help pull some of the work together, for example ‘Dreamgirls,’ if seen as a separate ‘photo album’ or exhibition, for me, did not convey the hopes and dreams of a community as strongly as the project of teenage homelessness showed loneliness, fear of the unknown and the desire to break the chain of abuse.


Visit the web pages of the Kingsmead Eyes project. Investigate the original 2009 project and the latest Kingsmead Eyes Speak project.

Write notes in your learning log about how the work is presented on the website, in particular the use of mixed media – stills, video and audio.

Kingsmead Eyes was the result of a unique collaboration between photographer Gideon Mendel and 28 pupils from Kingsmead School in Hackney which took place in 2009. The children documented their world over six months, photographing their friends, families, community and school to create an accomplished and vibrant body of work.

The Kingsmead Estate was, at the time, recognised as among the highest 4% for deprivation in the UK. Improving conditions and regeneration initiatives encouraged a stronger sense of community – the school playing a major role in this turnaround.  85% of pupils spoke English as a second language. In order to complete this project the ten year-old pupils were trained in the use of digital cameras in a series of workshops led by photographer, Crispin Hughes.

A parallel project undertaken by Mendel produced portraits of all 249 students within the school revealing the ethic diversity. A resulting video installation was part of the Kingsmead Eyes exhibition which was on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood between November 2009 and February 2010.

The use of drums, poetry, prose, video, and photography all blend together to make a very successful piece of work. I loved the mix of images that were taken ‘just because I like it’ to those where children had taken on board the concepts of looking at colour, shape and form. The use of flash and compositional techniques added to the visual competency and cohesion as a set despite the multiple contributions.

The initial school portraits suggests the uniformity of a community and we gradually discovered their individuality. What came over most of all was that the children had photographed what was important to them, their families, their pets, and their friendships, especially with those who had moved on or passed away.

Kingsmead Speak was a 2011 project along similar lines,  but children only spent a month documenting their friends, families, community and school life and a poetry book was produced at the end. Again working with photographers Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes this time poet Joelle Taylor worked with the  children and parents to create a body of work now featured in an interactive website.  Some of these students were born after the original project was begun and it was interesting to see what a slightly different generation was photographing and how the estate had altered or not.

The way the work is presented is also a major factor; each child having their own page accessed from an index grid, with the page having a combination of stills, audio, text and video. The individual stories and children’s characters and backgrounds came over really well in most, this seemed more effective than the original project.

Research %5BAccessed 7 Oct 2017]

PhotoVoice [Accessed 6 Oct 2017]

Solomon-Godeau, A. “Inside/Out” in La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press


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