‘an uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is little progress or improvement’
Made in Plymouth Contributor, Paul Gibbins, recently caught up with the organiser of a local Photography Group for Refugees at an Exhibition of their work.
Amy Griffin, aged 22, is in her third year at Falmouth University studying press and editorial photography. Following her travels through Europe and witnessing the Migration issue up close in Budapest, she decided to set up a course for Refugees living in Plymouth.
“I’m in my final year at Falmouth University and I study press and editorial photography. For my dissertation I wrote about participatory photography projects and what how that sort of practice can help people in a useful way and how communities tell their own stories and that the photography does not go in and impose upon them. They can represent themselves, not how the photography represents them. I became really interested in that process and it really clicked with me and that this is the sort of practice that I want to pursue.”
Amy has undertaken a lot of documentary photography on Cornish communities, but realised that it would be more interesting to hand the camera over to people themselves.
Amy Griffin, Organiser of ‘In Limbo’
“I wanted to work with refugees partly because I did some travelling in 2015. I went around Europe on a holiday, but then by chance I came across the refugee crisis as it took off in Budapest and found the situation really bad there, and that’s where I really became empathetic to the situation, and where I realised I wanted to work with refugees.”
Amy looked for charities dealing with Refugees in Cornwall, to find the only one in Plymouth, Devon. She began by approaching Devon & Cornwall Refugee Support and asked to run a Photography workshop. Following two trial sessions in November 2016, she started a 12-week course in January 2017 with between 15-20 people attending the workshops.
“It wasn’t a random choice to work with refugees. I don’t like saying I have given them a voice, because they had a voice anyway, before I gave them a camera, but it has definitely motivated people.”
Without the daily routine or legal employment, the mental health of refugees is affected enormously, placing greater importance on activity groups such as this. The group is from across the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria and also Venezuela, South America.
“I’m pleased that everyone enjoyed it so much and stuck it out for 12 weeks with me. This is the first kind of course I have delivered, having studied photography since GCSE (Yr 10). I am now 22 years old, so I’ve been taught photography for years, but never actually taught the skill myself, so a bit of a learning curve for me. The guys were so respectful, so happy. Before I started to deliver the workshops I was feeling nervous, I didn’t want to be patronizing in any way, but when with the group, they were so nice and respectful it was completely ok, everyone was so lovely, so happy to be on the course.”
The workshops were supported by Fotonow, a local photographic community interest company, who purchased equipment from Amy’s University for use on the course. The students used both DSLR and “point and shoot” digital cameras.
“Everyone enjoyed using the big cameras, to feel a bit more professional. The “point and shoot” are like an iPhone camera, but people were excited to learn the DSLR. It would have been nice to have had some more photographic equipment; it was a really slow process to edit. I received the images on an SD card, on average 12 cards, with 100 images per card per session! It was hard to know which photos to exhibit; we had hundreds. The exhibits have had some basic editing, brightness and contrast, I just wanted it to look nice.”
Collaboration in Photography and its various participatory methods evolved in the 70’s, when photographers began to attempt to break down the power imbalance between photographer and subject. By giving ‘subjects’ cameras, they were attempting to empower them to photograph their own stories. This exhibition is the result of collaboration between Amy and 9 individuals currently on their way to asylum.
The process has been very positive for Amy, “I have a lot of empathy for the situation, they had to leave their countries, I just think that people need to have a bit more empathy and try and put themselves into their shoes. They’re not any different to me and you, it’s just circumstance. They’re just lovely people that have amazing cultures, they’re not that different.”
‘In Limbo’ is open this weekend (13-16th April 2017) at St Saviour’s Church, Lambhay Hill, Plymouth.