Stories are always best straight from the source. Even the most ‘objective’ journalist adds their perspective and spin to a subject so the more voices who have the opportunity to present their own reality, the better.
Inspired by amazing organisations like Photovoice – who work hard to put the tools of production in the hands of marginalised or disadvantaged communities – artist, designer and filmmaker Jessica Bishopp launched The Gambia Media and Design Project – a series of workshops focused on sharing creative skills in North West Africa.
In November 2012 18 students (aged 16-20) attended the workshops at a Gambia Senior Secondary School in Banjul to learn about the basics of photography in relation to themselves and their environment and Jessica captured the results for posterity in the beautiful print of See What I See. We caught up with her to find out more.
What exactly is See What I See?
See What I See is a collection of personal photographic insights into African life through the eyes of 18 Gambian students between the ages of 16 and 20. The photographs are a result of several photography workshops that took place in The Gambia Senior Secondary School, Banjul, which I organised and taught. After the workshops each of the students were given an open brief and a disposable film camera to use over four days and See What I See is the result! The photographs have been exhibited in London and published in a photobook.
During the workshops we discussed the basics of photography in relation to the students themselves and their environment. In the first workshop over 60 large images by iconic photographers aided discussion of the techniques employed by photographers to capture the attention and the imagination of the audience; including visual techniques such as colour and composition. However it was the aspect of how to tell a story and show expression through a photograph that was the main focus.
These photographs show an insight into the Gambian students’ lives that an outsider could never capture. The photographs are intimate and candid, and each comes with a personal explanation of why they took the image and why it is important to them; bringing a new perspective to images of Africa from the inside and not the usual outside looking in.
Why did you make it?
I have been going to The Gambia every November for five years as part of a charity expedition. I wanted to do something different and spend more time with the young people who I met there and so I created The Gambia Media and Design Project, which resulted in See What I See. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories; photography is one way in which everyone can share their stories, transcending language barriers and personal backgrounds, everyone can get involved and share their point of view. It is clichéd but an image speaks a thousand words and an image can speak louder than words, drawing attention to issues where words alone are not enough.
How do you hope it will have an impact?
I hope it will impact the students by showing them that people all over the world are interested in their personal viewpoint. I hope it will impact the wider community by exposing a different side to Africa, not necessarily focusing on poverty or violence, but instead on art, photography and the beauty of daily life through culture, all seen through the eyes of young people.
What’s the creative scene in The Gambia like?
The Gambia is a beautiful and inspiring country in North West Africa and in recent years more Gambian artists are emerging and the creative scene is incredibly rich; although most of the students who I met are more interested in graphic design rather than art. In the UK a great place to discover contemporary African artists is through 1:54, the first contemporary African Art Fair, which takes place in Somerset House in October.
Who’s involved in See What I See?
I had fantastic and relentless support from my family, friends and local community. There were numerous stages and goals in the creation of See What I See. Thomas Kalokoh, Lamin Camara, Sana Singhateh, Sainey Singhateh, Zainab Kalokoh and Elliott Stevens helped the photography workshops to happen, donating their time and skills to the project. I taught and filmed the workshops and then collaborated with the talented Sara Galvão (Film Editor) and Emmett Glynn (Sound Designer) to create a short film that was used as an integral part of our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of the book. The film was also screened at the exhibition of the photographs at the London College of Communication in September 2013. The book itself was then designed by graphic designer and friend Silvia Weber, who is based in Vienna, Austria. The book was funded through Kickstarter, the photography exhibition was generously supported and funded by the London College of Communication and O2 Telefonica. The creative duo Hellicar & Lewis’s generous donation allowed the initial photography workshops to happen, along with Stanfords donating a large selection of inspiring and educational photography books to the workshops which were subsequently given to the school library.
How can people get involved/show support?
You can show your support for the photographs and the project by visiting the website, liking the Facebook page and following the project on Twitter. If you want to get more involved then you can show your support by purchasing a copy of the photobook, See What I See. It is £20 (excluding postage) and all the profits raised go to Gambian charities! See What I See is stocked in several London bookshops including Claire de Rouen, Foyles, Charing Cross, South London Gallery, The Photographers Gallery and Ti Pi Tin. You can also order a copy online from me personally via email.
What have been the challenges bringing the book to life?
See What I See is self published, which poses many challenges but is also incredibly rewarding. I didn’t know anything about self publishing when I started the project back in 2012. I’m determined and I learnt as I went along, which is a slow process and I had to be prepared for failures and mistakes, but I made sure I got good advice along the way. I am passionate about photography, participation, community and The Gambia which helped to fuel the whole project. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and I stuck with it. I was worried that the photographs the students took wouldn’t come out or be ruined during the developing process, but the main aspect of the project was in fact the workshops and the interactions with the students themselves. I loved meeting the enthusiastic students who gave up their time to take part in my workshops, I loved hearing about their plans for the future and reasons for coming to the workshops; a few of them wanted to be graphic designers, journalists and photojournalists. The resulting photographs were beautiful and insightful, some candid and well timed – capturing the perfect moment – others arranged and thoughtful with beautiful composition and colours.
What have been the major inspirations?
My main inspirations came from the young people who I met in The Gambia, who I wanted to know more about. Organisations such as Photovoice inspired my approach and technique, giving me valid advice and encouragement. I am a National Geographic subscriber and love the work of Steve McCurry, so I have always been curious about different cultures and intrigued by how people live – daily lives and local and global thoughts. I am really interested in how creative participation can be used within communities.
What’s the future for See What I See?
The immediate future involves distributing the book and sharing the photographs with as many interested people as possible, and getting as many responses to the photographs to relay back to the Gambian students who took part. The distant future involves organising an exhibition of the photographs in The Gambia this November, I have tried to get the British High Commission involved, but I am still looking for a suitable exhibition space in The Gambia, if anyone has any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated! I hope that See What I See will continue to interest and inspire people for years to come.