Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Activism Through Documentation

Back in September, I was the keynote speaker for a workshop hosted by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights for the organization's youth group. My topic was documenting activist events through photography and writing (particularly blogging and social media). Here is a video of my talk, as well as my notes.


Event Documentation: Activism Through Writing and Photography

  • The photos you are seeing are part of the Art + Activism exhibit at Visual Arts Alberta, featuring my photos and two activist painters until November 26 (10215 112 Street).
  • Introduce myself: multimedia artist working in the areas of journalism (writing and editing), photography, videography, social media consulting. Made a conscious decision to apply my skills towards activism, because I did not see a lot of progressive events covered in mainstream media, and no one seemed to be documenting much.
Why document?
  • To have an historical record
  • To protect yourself/colleagues by having recorded details that the memory may otherwise lose
  • To share your movement and experiences online and connect with like-minded groups/individuals and grow beyond your borders
  • Helps build grassroots community locally and beyond through the sharing of resources.
  • Helps attract others to the movement by presenting who you are and what you do. Pictures (and videos) speak volumes beyond just written descriptions (but writing is important too, as we will discuss later).
  • Be the media: cover important gaps in coverage. Citizen journalism is a “thing” - there are unprecedented opportunities in today's world for our voices to be heard.
  • For yourself: just like there are those people who always take pictures at family gatherings, events and protests can make important memories for us as well.
  • Can be an issue of access/privilege (equipment – you need a camera, and ideally you need a computer)
  • However, one does not need a fancy camera – a smartphone/tablet can suffice. Technology has come a long way.
  • Most phones can also take video, most cameras (DSLR and point-and-shoot) can take video, and some video cameras can also take decent stills.
  • Benefit of the above: items can be shared immediately via data or wifi (be careful about eating up data plan). You can even edit in your phone or tablet now with apps.
  • Instagram & Flickr, Facebook & Twitter – all places to post immediately. Don't forget to tag and add hashtags. Tags are like keywords; hashtags use the # symbol and also work as keywords that can be clicked on to be taken to materials using that same term. Eg. #yeg in Twitter for Edmonton-related posts.
  • Photos should tell a story. Include backdrops, crowds. Don't always focus in one individuals without context or else you end up with photos that look like they could have been taken anywhere. Eg. Festival photo of family on grass that could have been taken anywhere.
  • No issues taking photos at and posting photos from public gatherings on public space. However, respect it if a colleague does not want his/her photo taken and posted. Could be a job-related issue, family issue etc. Or, maybe they just don't like their picture being taken. Legal issues vs. moral/ethical issues in this case err on the side of caution.
  • Children: if singled out in a photo, always a good idea to get permission from parents/guardians. Again, morality/ethics should take precedence over legality.
  • Police/law enforcement can be photographed. They, nor anyone else, have the right to tell you to delete photos.
  • I'm not a lawyer – my information comes from my experience and what I believe to be true, but don't take anything I have said here as legal advice.
  • Editing: I try to shoot in a way that would require minimal editing, if at all, afterwards. Depends what you are trying to do. Documentation, to me, means being true to what I see, so I don't want to change or enhance it much. You can crop and make some adjustments right in your phone. Most computer operating systems come with a basic photo editor (as well as a video editor).
  • Captures the moments, describes them, another way of sharing information.
  • Photo captions/descriptions
  • Blogs: Wordpress, Blogger. Wordpress is better for making full-fledged websites. If you just want a plain blog, Blogger might be more intuitive to use for some.
  • Facebook posts: keep succinct, add hashtags (a more recent development on FB)
  • You don't have to be an English major or wonderful writer.
  • Be descriptive, be succinct.
  • Letters to the Editor at newspapers – don't be surprised if you don't get published or it gets edited way down. Keep as short as possible – increases chances of getting printed.
  • Contributions to activist websites. Usually are hungry for submissions because they can't pay.
  • Work as a team; have someone edit your work
  • Be careful what you write: “say it and forget it, write it and regret it.” Nothing ever really permanently vanishes from the Internet (eg. Deborah Drever). You don't want something coming back at you down the road.
  • Published work online usually has a unique link that can be shared on social media.
Best Practices

Photos: General (this can be applied to video as well)
  • Seems like common sense: make sure batteries in phone and cameras are charged.
  • Carry charger and battery packs for phones.
  • Some camera batteries are proprietary; have a spare (if economical) and/or make sure it is charged in advance.
Photos: Instagram
  • Good descriptions
  • Lots of hashtags
  • Settings to share on other social media like FB and Twitter
Photos: Facebook
  • Don't tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get defriended.
  • Respect it when people don't want to be tagged. Easier now that people can remove tags themselves.
Photos: Flickr
  • Same as the above with regard to descriptions, keywords, sharing, adding people (the equivalent of tagging).

  • Keywords
  • Have someone else edit your work
  • Fact check
  • Share links to your work on social media

Caring Community Film

For the past year I have been working on a short film called McCauley: A Caring Community - Conversations on Social Housing. The film discusses the concentration of social housing in the McCauley neighbourhood, and why housing needs to be a city-wide responsibility. Faith and social justice are both themes in this film, as there are clergy from the area interviewed, as well as residents who also happen to represent the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Coalition and other faith-based social action organizations.

The film is an independent production with support from McCauley Revitalization. The official trailer was released a couple of weeks ago - here it is!