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Exploring the Self through PhotographyReview - Exploring the Self through Photography
Activities for Use in Group Work
by Claire Craig
Jessica Kingsley, 2009
Review by Paola Teresa Grassi, Ph.D,
Aug 31st 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 35)

Claire Craig sits on the management team of the Lab4Living at Sheffield Hallam University. Senior Research Fellow, Senior Lecturer and Occupational Therapist specialized in working with older people or patients with dementia, she declares to be inspired by the beauty of "experience and wrinkled ripe fulfillment" -- quoting from D.H. Lawrence's poem 'Beautiful Old Age'. "The wrinkled smile of completeness", praised by the British novelist, "that follows a life lived undaunted and unsoured", captures her imagery, and defines both her research and clinical commitment. On the one side of a 'design for well being', she focuses on the development of 'creative' living environments and spaces in hospital and residential care settings. On the other side of her practice - group work - she moves across a wide range of health and social settings. That is how she came through photography as a medium to explore the self, and more.

Fascinated by her grandfather records of everyday life in pictures, she grew up surrounded by photographs. Then, as a professional, her camera came along a much diverse career evolution. She first embedded image-making in adult education, then used digital photography within community outreach with asylum-seekers, young mums, parents caring for children with disabilities, people with dementia and their carers, individuals with learning disadvantages, patients managing physical as well as emotional pain. This book describes some of the exercises she used in her practical process.

The text offers a clear overview of the resources and steps required in order to set up and facilitate an 'exploring-through-photography' group - Part I. As the issue is not about the business of taking beautiful pictures, the primary requirement of the facilitator is not (or not necessarily) to be an expert in photography. On the contrary, that could hinder the process as the temptation would be to focus too much on the technical accuracy of the final product, rather than on the process of creation. Otherwise choosing a camera is essential and a clear chart illustrating strenghts and weaknesses of different equipments is given.

The main body of the volume, Part II, is organized around chapters' titles like "Image as...": warm-up tools, gateways to imagination, communication and relationship builders, agents for reflection, change and self-discovery. Narratives are included throughout the lines illustrating how the insights of the author have been declined into practice.

The effectiveness of the proposal is easy to be tested, as did the present reviewer in her training and teaching activities with unoccupied foreigners -- using traditional job pictures (e.g. fishermen, factory workers, sewers, farmers, etc.). 'Finding the untold story: story making from photographs' is one of the activities described in the 'exploring imagination' section. Craig's hint is to challenge participants to seek out the narrative behind the image. They choose one and then respond a few questions such as: 'Who took the photograph?', 'What was their name, how did they come to be there?', 'What were their motivations?', 'Was this planned or a spontaneous act?', 'How did they feel after they had pressed the shutter release?', 'What message did they want to give to the world?', 'Where is the photographer now?'. Then, using the responses, group members develop an account of imaginary events, and spend time sharing each narrative production. The conclusive extension could be a dialogue, or - as in the test related here -- a group of plots answering: 'What was their story?', 'What happened next?'. Memories of a grandmother left in the home country, desires to be realized in the hosting country, descriptions of feelings. At any rate, a declaration of identity.

 

© 2010 Paola Teresa Grassi

 

Paola Teresa Grassi, PhD, Philosophical Practioner, Italy

 


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