Research point · The documentary project

Research point · The documentary project

Photovoice description of their project

‘PhotoVoice works to build a world in which everybody has the opportunity to  represent themselves and tell their own story. We work in the UK and internationally with individuals, local communities, and partner organisations.(

In outline the organisation has intentions to build a sense of initiative in local communities at home and abroad, offering training to marginalised groups to help them use photography as way of exploring their own representation within a community. This on the whole seems like a very positive initiative.

1.PROJECT AIMS: To build confidence To increase skills To provide a platform for the young people to communicate to their community and international audiences their stories of growing up as a refugee.
2. ISSUE: London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with 30% of its residents born outside England and over 300 languages spoken. For over a decade, PhotoVoice has worked on a range of participatory photography projects with refugees, and with young people. Since 2000 an estimated 15,000 young separated refugees have arrived alone in the UK seeking sanctuary, many of whom are from troubled backgrounds and facing significant challenges as they move to London.








3. Shutter Release focused on helping people who are rebuilding their lives following prison or addiction. The project sought to identify and communicate things that would make it easier for them to reach personal goals for the future, enabling them to plan and prepare.









Project 1: Voices in Exile

I have selected three projects to explore, given that there are many more than this. The project aims are highlighted as these:


    • To build confidence
    • To increase skills
    • To provide a platform for the young people to communicate to their community and international audiences their stories of growing up as a refugee.

This is a direct humanitarian project in a sense at it is dealing with Nepalese refugees crossing the border over to Bhutan. The aim of the project here, as stated above is to provide a platform and context for the children to talk about their situation. The project had limited funding initially, but later after being awarded money from comic relief in 2003 it was able to stabilise and expand its work.

Not only does the project provide them with skills to communicate, but also it opens up the economic sphere as they may be able to use their skills vocationally. The sphere of activity of photovoice in general seems quite broad incorporating video, photography and even journalistic training.

This form of photography appears to be in the vein of ‘citizen photography’ and straight photography in the almost perhaps pure documentary sense, if there is such term. The question that I ask is, how do these people present themselves as different from an outside trained journalistic photographer coming in to do the work. What would the fundamental differences be?

Project 2: New Londoners

This project also deals with the theme of refugees, but this time arriving to London. The aims of this course and project seemed to be more focused on helping people to integrate into the their new cultural setting and not seeing themselves as refugees. What the actual results of that experiment were, I have no way of telling, although I imagine just simply having people interested in their situation would of been a big help. The ‘output’ of the project was book entitled: ‘New Londoners, reflections on home’

Project 3: Shutter release, picturing life after prison


    • To reduce re-offending rates for prisoners by increasing their level of mental and practical preparedness for successful rehabilitation through photography.
    • To raise awareness of the barriers and anxieties faced by prisoners upon release from prison, in order to campaign for better support structures and to allow prisoners to feed into the design and implementation of those structures.
    • To create a model of good practice and an evidence base to support the wider use of photography as a tool to tackle issues around release and rehabilitation.

Here in this project, photography seems to have an almost therapeutic and rehabilitation emphasis. As stated above one of the projects aims are to ‘reduce re-offending rates by increasing mental and practical preparedness…’ ( In this project as in the others the photography is largely of the candid and subjective variety; here in this case in particular the focus seems to be on the perception of one individual in unitising symbols of restrictions, freedom and alluding to crime or brokenness. On the whole I find the project warming but felt it lacked a person in any real sense being present.


There is obviously some value in helping people voice their experience, be it with photography or any other art medium. I had some reservations about the site because I saw no testimonials or experiences of the participants, which I felt was an omission. In general I feel that the attempts to get people communicating from their side is a good thing, but I also wonder if, a documentary photographer having researched the assignment and shooting it would not also be able to tell a similar story, if not a better one? The reasoning being here is that to take a photo that has narrative potential and can relay the broader issues, might be better done in the hands of someone who can transmit the information more effectively. But this is really my conjecture.

references: all material from:







Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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