VAR SUPPLEMENT: Arjun Shankar on Critical Visuality and Image-Making
Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions
Anthropologists working with photography and youth have a common dilemma: how do we produce images that do not reinforce stereotypic imaginings of those who we work with which we are constantly consuming online and/or on television? How do we combat image regimes that portray those who we work with in uni-dimensional and deficiency-laden ways? This is the central dilemma brought up in the article, Auteurship and Imagemaking, which provides one example for how we might “see” communities differently through their own creative praxis.
The following two-part exercise is meant to provoke students to think critically about the types of images they consume as part of development and humanitarian aid interventions. They should, by the end of this lesson, be able to understand how images facilitate particular ways of seeing communities and the multiple agendas that these images are used for. Moreover, in doing this critical excavation, they should be able to begin thinking about how they can produce alternative images in collaboration with those depicted.
- Have students pick a development or humanitarian aid organization that works with children whose image practice they want to assess. Have them delineate:
- What the organizations primary goals are
- Types of intervention strategies
- The primary populations that they work with
- Funding sources
- Have students outline some of the assumptions that the organization has. These might include assumptions regarding:
- Who needs help and why
- Who should be facilitating change and why
- The appropriate means by which change can occur
- Have students choose 3-4 images from the organization’s website. Once they have done this, have them answer the following questions:
- Who has taken the photograph? What social groups (racial, gender, national) are they a part of?
- Who is the primary audience for the photographs?
- What kind of photographic choices has the photographer made? How are the people in the photograph depicted?
- What do we learn about the community based on the images produced?
- How is the image distributed?
- What else is on there on the webpage on which the photograph is placed?
- What are the intended goals of these images?
- How might images like this influence how the organization intervenes and/or interacts with the community?
- Given these forms of image circulation, have them identify the most serious representational issues that arise with regards to the community in question? Have them also postulate how those within the community depicted might react to such images.
- Show students the image from the article Auteurship and Imagemaking. The driving question should be: what do you see?
- Ask them to identify where they think it was taken and why?
- Who they believe took the photograph and why
- For what purpose was the image taken?
- Where might the photograph have been exhibited and why?
- What do they learn from the images, about the photographer and/or those who are on screen?
- Reveal to the students that these images were taken by students from a rural community in India. Then ask:
- How do these images challenge or complicate the depictions that were excavated in part one?
- How might images like these facilitate a different set of interactions between organizations and those who they are working with?
- Have students design their own photo-voice project for youth:
- Who should be involved in the image-making process?
- What are the goals that the project should consider?
- What aesthetic choices might be made that differ from those that they have encountered in dominant visual regimes?
- What new questions should they ask? What criteria should they use to select photographs?
- How might there image-making practice change how organizations like those who they researched intervene?