Photographing Communities: Marysa Dowling and Russell Watkins

Image: The Movement of an Object, London, 2012, © Marysa Dowling

The Social is a regular and lively evening event run by The Photographers’ Gallery that aims to provide practical information for artists and photographers in a social environment. 

Advice given by photographers and industry specialists is intended to support practitioners at all stages of their career, from the newly-gradulated to the seasoned professional. At The Social, the audience is encouraged to enjoy a drink and, most of all, socialise. 

On Thursday 9 March 2017, we focussed on the theme of Photographing Communities, and invited Marysa Dowling and Russell Watkins to give their perspectives and tips on this topic. This theme linked with the Roger Mayne exhibition, but also that of Dana Lixenberg and Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebbs’ work in the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017. 

The Social is free to all, with booking essential. 

The Movement of an Object, Beirut, 2010, © Marysa Dowling

The Social: Photographing Communities

Key advice from photographer Marysa Dowling:

  • Ask yourself why you want to work with a particular community – consider the ethics and also the context you might want to present the work in

  • Get support from an organisation or someone connected with that community who can help you make connections

  • Think about your methodology for working with this community – will there be a common thread or core that will run through your work? Think about what can help you tell a story. 

  • Ensure you obtain consent from the individuals photographed, and ensure they understand the context(s) in which you might present your work now or in the future

  • Be respectful of people’s privacy and decisions not to be involved, should they choose so.

Marysa Dowling’s practice considers human exchange, exploring how people interact with each other and their environments. Her playful and thoughtful projects use photography to build connections across communities and societies. Dowling has worked on commissions and exhibited in the UK, Ireland, USA, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, India and Lebanon.

The Movement of an Object, Los Angeles, 2012, © Marysa Dowling

Key advice from photographer and PhotoVoice Chair Russell Watkins:

  • Research –do your homework, develop a plan for the story you think you want to tell, identify the key people you need to talk to;

  • Time – ensure you give yourself the time needed to build a relationship with the community you’re interested in

  • Collaborate – be willing and open to working in partnership

  • Objectives – establishing clear, concrete aims and objectives is essential to the success of a project

  • Sustainability – consider the long-term sustainability of the project and work towards this wherever possible

Russell Watkins has worked in photography for over 15 years. Since 2008 he has worked for the Department for International Development, documenting the impact of the UK’s overseas aid in developing countries around the world. Since 2014 he’s been a trustee and supporter of participatory photography charity PhotoVoice.

PhotoVoice’s mission is to create positive social change by building skills within disadvantaged and marginalised communities through using innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling methods. PhotoVoice also runs a public training programme for practitioners who would like to learn more about the practicalities and ethics in running participatory photography projects.

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