|June 20 2013
Photo project hopes to bring awareness of place
By Lailani Upham
Kjellstrand discusses his personal visual image collection with the group, demonstrating conveying a sense of place with the participants. (Lailani Upham, photo)
PABLO — A small group of community folks joined in on a grassroots social action through photography called PhotoVoice to bring their own personal narratives to light earlier this month.
National Photographer of the Year, Torsten Kjellstrand, and Washington State University Edward R. Murrow – College of Communication professors, Dr. Jeffery Chaichana Peterson and Benjamin Shors, led participants in a free visual storytelling and photography workshop at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal complex to produce their own stories of what they felt was important from their environment.
Photographs from the project will be published later in the summer and may be printed for public display according to Dr. Peterson.
Participants were given tools and guidance on how to conceptualize their own ideas and hopes in a form of visual storytelling through photographs and returned the following Monday to share their images and discuss narratives to go along with their photos in an attempt to bring awareness to certain issues they felt was vital in their own environment.
“I thought the two nights went great. I very much liked hearing the stories the participants told and seeing the pictures that were taken,” Peterson stated.
Peterson said the purpose of doing the project was to meet folks in the community in hopes to become a friend and familiar face for collaborative research he would like to do in the future.
“I think it’s so valuable that people learn from each other about what is important, what is good about a community, and what needs changing,” Peterson said.
Kjellstrand stated, “When I think of the PhotoVoice process that brought us together I am mostly thankful for getting to be part of showing photos and talking about place, people, culture and our relationship to the places we call home. I wanted to be part of this because I believe in visual communication and I believe in the power of storytelling to connect us and to help heal us and amuse us and understand each other little bit.”
Participant Emalene Manuel said she took the workshop for the love of “taking pictures. “
“I believe that pictures and other forms of art are important ways of voicing concerns and informing others about what we think is important,” Manuel stated. “What we see and express non-verbally embraces cultural ways of communicating sometimes more directly than the English language,” she added.
Manuel recorded photos of the Salish Kootenai College graduation events. “I think the pictures captured emotionally some of the feelings that I couldn’t express otherwise and I’m glad that others added what they found meaningful about them as well.
Participants shared that the experience brought them closer to the experiences of those who shared their images.
Regardless of being a nationally renowned photojournalist, Kjellstrand said sharing images of his own personal environment from his home country made him feel slightly exposed.
“It always makes me feel a little vulnerable to share my photos in person with a group of people I’ve never before met, especially when some of those pictures try to express my relationship to my home in Sweden, but this group made me feel welcome. Then many returned and dared to share the photos they had made of their homes. The discussions of those photos gave me a little understanding of the strong connection between the photographers and the land and culture around us as we sat together. I heard about pride and worries and hopes and fear and love; all the stuff of lives lived earnestly and deliberately,” Kjellstrand added.
“Peterson’s approach to the conversation about community was very engaging. I imagine he is a great professor. When we discussed the photos taken, I could see that he was really getting people to look beyond the surface of the photo. He challenged us to really see the relevance in the things we might find mundane because of our everyday interactions with place and people,” stated participant Sarah Sandoval.
Arnold Weaselhead, said he took the class to see if he could actually photograph. The class was advertised for all participation regardless of the level of experience or training. Dr. Peterson told the group the quality of the image was not as important as the content of the image.
“I started to enjoy taking the pictures when I could see them on the camera screen and learned I could shoot as many as I wanted since the memory card holds 560 pictures and I erased those I didn’t like. The story telling part caused me to go to places where I lived and did things with my family. I was amazed to see buildings still standing. Along the way I saw a red fox and got a big laugh out of a Black Angus bull sitting down. I just had to take his picture and try to figure out why he was sitting down. When I listened to the stories of other students and saw their pictures I thought about how there are a bunch of things out there to take pictures of. I will keep taking pictures,” Weaselhead stated.
“I liked that the facilitators impressed upon us that it wasn’t important to get a perfect shot or be a professional photographer but rather it was important to take a picture that tells a story. That took the stress of feeling self conscious about our pictures and kept the joy in the sharing, Manuel stated.
“The photographers found some great images, but even more importantly, they found some great stories that reflect a sense of place. As with any community where we work, we hope those images will spur healthy discussion, both for participants and those who have the chance to view them, stated Benjamin Shors, WSU Edward R. Murrow – College of Communications Clinical Assistant Professor.
Peterson told the group, “I want to tackle bigger issues using this same type of process in the future. The only problem is only a few people get to speak about these issues while other important people such as yourselves never get asked. So, if we enjoyed this process and if we can keep in touch and take more pictures and have more discussions, I’d like to. All of you taught me a lot about your community and I think other people should hear it—that’s up to you but I think it would go a long way to solving misunderstanding.”
The Char-Koosta News and the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication sponsored the event.