Photography as Civic Engagement Camp

Local artist Ashley Florence led Charlottesville teenagers in a collaborative photography camp. Students engaged their own ideas to address issues concerning Charlottesville using documentary, portrait, public, and collaborative photography and art methods. The workshop took place as a part of The Bridge’s Tactics of Collaboration exhibit in partnership with artist Mark Strandquist.

Use photography as a way to explore Charlottesville and tell stories about the city.
Identify and engage in issues that concern local teenagers.
Create opportunities for students to develop ideas that will address these issues.
Develop a project that coalesces the experiences of students and shares them with the public.

The students discussed what would they would change about Charlottesville to identify issues that were important to them. The group divided into two focus groups; one that would work on the issue of inequity in playgrounds and parks in the city and the other around the issue of homelessness.

The Playground group visited and photographed eleven city parks in the five days. The group researched the parks and compiled information based on a list of features the students devised to rate each park from a teen’s perspective. The students also met with Doug Ehman from Charlottesville Parks and Rec to discuss topics important to them, such as: Who decides which parks get renovated? How much does it cost to renovate a park? Why are some parks better than others? Who designs the parks? Are any kids consulted about these issues?

The Playground group designed a Teen’s Guide and Map to the Charlottesville Parks and Playgrounds.

GOALS: To finish researching and rating every park in Charlottesville. To complete the teen guide for publication. To create a focus group to help the teens redesign and renovate their local playground.

The Homelessness group researched contemporary photography projects on homelessness which lack a true sense of collaboration between artist and subject. The group decided to visit The Haven to learn more about the day shelter and homelessness in Charlottesville. They students had an incredible experience interviewing Eleis Lester and learning about the complexities around homelessness. The students also were given the opportunity to photograph the shelter without the patrons. This led to an in-depth object study of homelessness, an alternative way to look at the experience without objectifying the people.

The students also asked different people in Charlottesville to answer the question, “What is Home?” and write their answer on a large white piece of paper and then the students photographed both the person and their answer together. The diverse answers show a relationship to the audience between the ideas of everyday people and the new progressive housing programs being implemented at The Haven.

This group of students saw no need to produce a final product from the week, but compiled their research into a work-in-progress tumblr site using quotes from the interview and photographs. The students felt like it was imperative to get this information out into the community through a larger visual campaign.

GOAL: Finish the tumblr site and develop a visual campaign to spread the word about The Haven, the human experience of homelessness in Charlottesville, and the new programs around housing the homeless.

“The Tactics of Collaboration project has many audiences and many functions. At the core it is about working with the leading socially engaged photographers to tell the story of their process, to visualize the whys, hows, with whoms of their work, and to do it with as much intentionality as their deeply collaborative and powerful projects. The process is always political and by visualizing the complexities of their collaborations we can all benefit from the years, sometimes decades of community work these artists have done.

The goal of the exhibits of the work is not simply to put work in frames, pat ourselves on the back, and call it a day, but to use the exhibition as a starting point for supporting, inspiring, and challenging local photographers, artists, and activists of all ages to create their own socially engaged photography projects.

We want to share alternative ways of working with communities, ways where they are an integral part of representing their own histories, experiences, and visions for their collective future.

We want to show examples of other ways of designing, producing or exhibiting photographs, and importantly to use that exchange of knowledge as a platform for working with local participants to critically and intentionally create their own local work.

The point, goal, hope, dream is for the exhibit to become a generative classroom that not only shares ideas, but becomes a classroom for connecting local individuals as they work to create their own projects. This generative model is something we need to tweak, perfect, and push further but we are excited and inspired by the work the teens made at the Bridge PAI this summer and can’t wait to see where it will go from there.”
– Mark Strandquist, Tactics of Collaboration Facilitator

“We want to share alternative ways of working with communities, ways where they are an integral part of representing their own histories, experiences, and visions for their collective future.”

– Mark Strandquist

Photo Gallery

12 Charlottesville students
Ashley Florence, Lead Artist and Mentor
Matthew Slaats, The Bridge
Liam Kiniry, University of Virginia

Stephen Hitchcock, The Haven
Eleis Lester, The Haven
Doug Ehman, City of Charlottesville Parks and Recreation