“The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange, photographer, USA 1895 – 1965.
While most of the workshops I deliver, particularly with young people, will include learning about the tool of the camera to acquire a new skill of photography in its own right, the emphasis is more often about developing the observational capacities of the participants, which can help open up a window onto their surroundings – whether it’s a familiar location or somewhere new.
Becoming attuned to the ‘small wonders’ that can be found in everyday places (your bedroom, the street, a park) and in less familiar environments, can provide a simple pleasure that’s often new and which allows people to feel inspired by their surroundings rather than taking them for granted. It can also open their eyes and motivate people into thinking of ways to change them if they’re not good. Other techniques I use alongside the photography to enhance this close observation are writing, plant identification and architectural feature ‘spotting’ – see posts on Speedwell, Tut’s Wood and Silica for examples of workshop projects in different settings.
This approach works equally well in urban or rural environments but where projects take place within a ‘green environment’ – that could be an allotment, a city park, some urban waste ground or a rural wood – there’s also the chance to simultaneously develop an awareness of the changes and cycles that are found in the natural world, especially if the project runs over a few weeks – see the Growing Journeys project.
But this process of observing and recording can do more than provide a new focus for some people – it can become an opening to a new level of understanding of the world and their place within it. As a part of the natural world our actions usually have an affect on everything and everyone else, so developing an awareness of that belonging can also help develop a sense of shared ownership and responsibility. Having a skill (such as photography) that we can use to show other people what we have observed, allows us to be an effective part of that relationship between ourselves and the world which we inhabit, and that, in turn can assist in building confidence and developing identity.