I picked up this interesting initiative from a tweet by duckrabbit this morning. The BBC story is rather inspiring and worth a read. I won’t regurgitate it here. However, in summary – the photographer, Lee Karen Stow, was born in Hull, which happens to be twinned with Freetown in Sierra Leone. She went to the country to deliver greetings cards produced by women in Hull and organized a workshop. Fifty women turned up wanting to learn photography. It was the women’s enthusiasm that sparked off ’42′ (named after the life expectancy of a woman in Sierra Leone). The rest is history. Check out the article for more details.
The project is an example of the role participatory photography can play in engaging communities and, in some circumstances, generating income (see my article ‘Participatory Photography – Jack of all trades, master of none?‘ for more on this). As in many cases, what starts as a small scale initiative develops a life of its own. In reading about ’42′ I was reminded of Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh’s work in Lebanon.
My favorite quote from the BBC article on Stow is this;
“Credit and publicity for the photographer doesn’t put food on the table. It is very disappointing; the whole idea for the project is to train indigenous photographers because I believe we do get a more balanced view of the world that way. Gone are the days of the wealthy Westerner taking pictures of poor people in Africa.”
If only that were true. And yes, the debate over the advantages of local over foreign photographers will no doubt run and run. However, for me the benefits of hiring locally outweigh jetting someone in. Local knowledge, language, cultural reading, not standing out, access, ability to spend lengths of time with subjects, developing local talent…not to mention less carbon footprint. There will be many variables and considerations – not least other aspects of identity such as class, ethnicity, gender and religion within countries that will also have an influence. I am open to the advantages an outsider can bring which could be described as being able to ‘see the woods for the trees’ due to the newness / uniqueness of seeing for the first time. But what ever side you come down on Stow is right for another crucial reason – the reality is that there are an increasing amount of competent and talented local photographers quite capable of delivering the goods (not to mention an avalanche of digital images from everyone else). The economic realities of that will win the day.
For more on photographing Sierra Leone see my interview ‘Sophia Spring on Sweet Salone‘.