CFFL students using a ViewFinder Discussion method at the college campus in Corporan. May 2013 – photo © Pradip Malde
The ViewFinder Process seeks to formulate ways in which communities become more resilient through photography and community discussion. The approach is driven by the assumption that habitual discussion builds relationships and narratives, which, in turn, make for resilient communities.
These methods were developed at Sewanee: The University of the South, and tested at Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontan in Corporant, Haiti. The initial results have aided in further refining the methods. A Community Engagement course using these methods and incorporating other methods of soft-data collection is also being developed.
Small, under-resourced communities are frequently challenged by an inverse dynamic: those most in need have the least access to social, economic and political realms beyond their own immediate communities. Low levels of income, education, health-care, social infrastructure and safety nets all combine to marginalize under-resourced communities, and collectively diminish the probability of adequate representation at higher levels of government. Bringing in resources and projects that enable small communities has benefits, of course, but sets up other challenges, such as long-term concerns about program sustainability and ownership, and the iatrogenic effect of outside agencies acting on behalf of under-represented communities.
There is considerable evidence that photography can be used as a therapeutic and educational tool. Much of this kind of work has been done with children, for example in isolated and impoverished communities in the Appalachians (Wendy Ewald) and among children brought up in brothel communities in Kolkata (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman). A considerable amount has also been done in post-conflict and aftermath zones, such as with families born out of, and living with the consequences of rape in Rwanda (Jonathan Torgovnik). Sara Terry, who has worked extensively in Southern Africa, is using photography to study and support the regions long-established traditions of reconciliation through discussion. Several approaches have been established, most notably through initiatives by organizations and non-profits such as the Frameworks Institute and the Interactivity Foundation, to foster citizenship and political engagement (as opposed to activism) through discussion and facilitation processes. Altogether, these approaches suggest an amalgamated form of community development that combines photography with discussion and facilitation to identify and examine developmental issues in small communities. Various forms of the amalgamated approach have been tried out in art courses at Sewanee, and also in an Art documentary photography course (Pradip Malde) being co-taught with a Biology human health and environment course (Deborah McGrath).
An approach more in line with community development was prototyped (Malde) in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Here, ideas were tested, with six communication studies students from the Episcopal University in Port-au-Prince (UNEPH), in the use of photography as a tool for community development.
Results from the prototype at UNEPH and course projects in Sewanee suggest that combining photography with discussion-based activities could be of use not only for fostering resilient communities, but also as a module in any community engagement or development class, and ultimately form the core of what could become a class about methods in community engagement. Current iterations of the process are being tested in collaboration with Sewanee students Chandler Sowden and Brooke Irvine and students from Prof. Reginald Cean’s Community Development class at Centre de Formacion Fritz Lafontant (CFFL) in Corporan, Haiti.