To achieve as much ‘authenticity’ as possible in the project, I asked each participant to take their own photographs of what was most significant in their daily lives – a mechanism by which each person’s “way of looking” could be made more visible.
In addition I asked each participant to write a short text about themselves around the following 3 questions :
1) Why did you come here?
2) How do you experience your daily life here?
3) What are the benefits and challenges of living here?
It was the ‘power’ of the participants’ own words that were an important complement to their photos. The combination of words and images allows us to enter each person’s ‘universe’, to understand their challenges, frustrations, joys, motivations and ways of thinking. In addition, by giving the participants the time to take their own photos and to write their text, each one could stop, step back and think about their lives. The camera and ‘pen’ became tools for reflection, exploration and expression.
Time to work
It took over 5 years to complete this project. Some participants needed to reflect before deciding to participate, others needed time to write their texts or take their photos. ‘Recruitment’ to the project was either by word of mouth, through a local newsletter or following 5 exhibitions of the project as work-in-progress. I also put a booklet of the texts, posters and portraits (again as work-in-progress) in the Couleur Café tea house since it was a principle local meeting place. I never selected who was in the project; participation was entirely voluntary.
The only constraint to being part of the photo-project was that participants had to live – even part-time – in the Massat valley.
As for the project itself, it took a minimum of 3 visits to each person:
1). To explain the project – and how to use the camera (for some). I lent cameras to 50% of the participants;
2). A second visit to decide what photos were most relevant – and the size of those photos – for the each participant’s ‘personal life poster’;
3). A third visit to decide on the finishing details of the poster, to collect the text, and to take a portrait of the participant in the environment of their choice. We then chose the portrait they liked best.
In total, I have looked at approximately 5000 photos!
The final exhibition
There are 50 posters - printed on weather-proof canvas, 50 x 70 cms each – so that the project can be exhibited out-of-doors.
It is planned to have exhibition will in the courtyard/ garden of the ‘Couleur Café’ for the summer 2018, and then to have a photo-installation in a secluded forest location for the following summers (as a way of placing the participants in a more natural environment!).