Monday, December 18, 2006


I just returned from a conference called “Visible Rights: For and by Children”. The central idea was to discuss the use of photography to bring child-centered perspectives to development work, academic studies, and advocacy. It was a gathering of practitioners and academics… including professors from the Harvard, Duke, SENAC (Brazil), young people just beginning projects and directors of projects for children that have been running for twenty years or more. There was a lot of discussion about ethics and about protecting the participants of collaborative projects.

For me, the most important piece of this gathering was meeting a group of enthusiastic and socially engaged human beings and witnessing the beginnings of a network of recourses for those seeking ways to improve their humanitarian creative practices. The most interesting interactions I had were the informal conversations that happened during the long taxi rides from here to there in São Paulo and while wondering through the expansive circus of the São Paulo Biennial.
These were important moments when we took time to examine our motivations for doing various kinds of collaborations, how we determine the best process or structure for a project, and deconstructed our roles as directors, choreographers, and participants in our own projects.

Here are some of my notes, questions posed, comments made in São Paulo:

*Too much documentation of children who lead precarious lives focuses on their strife more than their agency.
*All image-makers need the chance to be critics of their own images.
*Transcripts of resistance are hidden in photos. How can we learn to read them?
*Are children politically engaged in a different way than adults? Should we read adult politics in images made by children?
*How do you measure empowerment? Psychosocial analysis? Can we put this in grids?
*Who is arbitrating the discussion about whether or not this work is ethical? Do we need more academics?
*Is exploring extreme poverty with a camera ethical? Whether or not the camera is in the hands of an oppressed youth?
Are you training children to be artists?
* Is this a form of colonialism?
*Is the product as important as the process? Should we care about aesthetics?
*How can a site-specific project be received internationally? Context of culture and circumstance can change meaning. Can produce misunderstanding.
*Is photography democratic? Access, costs, visual photographic discourse—a language of the elite?
*Can we really be the guardians of children’s images?…authorship.