Capturing, accommodating and appreciating diversity – the impact of visual imagery and sharing ideas on some further challenges

Last week I visited the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  It’s one I try to visit each year and enjoy equally each time.  What’s most beautiful is the way that a relatively small collection can so deftly capture a microcosm of the amazing diversity of people.  The images are perceptively simple but I can’t help but marvel at the immense skill of the photographers who create this thought provoking collection with the combination of expression, stance and setting at a single moment in time.

Visiting the exhibition linked neatly with a conversation I’d had the day before about some great projects I knew previously and others I’d been introduced to at RSA Engage earlier in the week.  All use visual images to capture human stories as a way of giving the subjects a voice, influence attitudes and policy and educate the wider public about issues the Project Founders are underrepresented.

As a quick intro to the projects in question, they are:

Café Art which takes artworks produced by people affected by homelessness and showcases them in a network of cafes across London.  I consider their “flagship” project the annual “MyLondon” calendar featuring photographs taken with disposable cameras representing the users’ representations of London.

Lensational which empowers women across the World through photography, teaching them the skills to create “herstories” with visual images.

The Face of Defiance a project devised by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Campaigner Leyla Hussein who enlisted the services of a professional photographer to portray women who have undergone FGM in all their strength and beauty.

The work of Hannah Rose Thomas who visits Refugee Camps and uses her incredible portraiture talents to paint the people residing there.

Finally, slightly different, MTArt which advocates investment in artists as key commentators on contemporary life and concerns..

These are just a few examples I’ve seen recently of how visual imagery can be harnessed to stimulate change – if you know of others, please share them.

The projects and their diverse subjects also tapped into a couple of other things that I’ve been thinking about recently and for some time – I wonder what projects might be out there working on:

  • Working with diverse groups. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently started a meetup group.  Something I’ve wanted to achieve from the outset is to make this group as inclusive as possible but within this I recognise I’m very much governed by my own experience.  Whilst trying to remove barriers to participation I’m already aware that I’ve created some by my session design.  I would really like to explore further both how a facilitator can recognise and adapt to the variety of people who may come together in a group and also the ways in which networks, collaborative projects and informal meetups can be as inclusive as possible.
  • How we can all “get to know each other better”. As only the second post since I revived my blog I haven’t managed to get far before mentioning “the B word” but, like many others the result of the referendum shocked and upset me in equal measure.  The implications of the vote itself are one thing but it was also a huge wake up call to me.   I generally consider myself to be interested in people from a range of backgrounds and try as far as possible to learn about others’ experiences through attending groups and talks, reading widely and volunteering but there was never a clearer illustration of the fact that I mix mainly with people similar to me than the fact that I was so surprised by the result.    With this realisation in mind I began to consider how I might ensure that I am exposed to a greater range of viewpoints but I’ve yet to come up with an answer.  How can we truly make strides in understanding each other better?  In this time of information overload the answers must be out there and I wonder if some of the techniques used in the projects I outlined at the start of this piece might be employed to achieve some of this impact.

In the spirit of shared learning and collaboration which I hope will be a strong thread running through this blog, it would be great to hear of the examples you know making strides in tackling these challenges and perhaps we can boost their profile together.

Sharing techniques for connecting and collaborating – “Together Tools” takes shape

The power of the crowd – was it ever more celebrated than today?  There’s no doubt it’s a welcome demonstration of what can be achieved when people unite around common goals, even if they’re otherwise complete strangers.  From crowdfunding to crowdsourcing, more often than not these connections draw on the evolution in digital communications.

While the virtual world offers fabulous reach and an effective method to make previously unlikely connections, there are many of us who still believe nothing beats a face to face connection.  But, for every stimulating training course and inspiring meeting there’s another that is no more than extended talking shop.

I love to bring people together and work interactively with others and am always looking for ways to gather new ideas on how to improve my practice.  Dropping in to a variety of meetup groups has given me some great opportunities to gain an insight into new techniques, but it’s been pretty hard work finding them and takes a certain boldness to drop into an established group, although I’ve always been made welcome.

I haven’t managed to find a group that brings this range of opportunities together, which is why I decided to start my own and “Together Tools” was born!  We had our first meeting on 17th January 2017, entitled “Breaking the Ice”.  A group of 7 of us congregated at the Royal Festival Hall, and as an icebreaker had been promised, we initially got to know each other discussing favourite places in London, times of day and …fruit and veg.  More specifically the question “If you could be any fruit or vegetable what would you be and why?” – the hands down winner was beetroot!

While we came from a range of backgrounds including start-up support, digital and tech, community development and change management, what then followed was an energetic discussion about reasons for joining the group and ideas and hopes for how it might develop.  These indicated some great possibilities for future avenues and, thinking big, a multi layered group with several strands of activity.  The potential of this group as a safe space to try out new “together tools” and seek input and feedback also featured strongly which chimes fully with one of my own hopes.

Fundamentally, however, I was pleased to find a group with a shared interest in bringing people together and developing our own “toolboxes” for supporting them to interact effectively.  Looking to the future, it’s now a chance to test out various sessions and formats and seek feedback and input on what those who attend find most useful, interesting and engaging.   If this sounds intriguing, please join the meetup and come along to a future session – it would be great to see you!