During our research module ‘Drogen und Kontrolle’, Dr. Bettina Paul invited Camille Stengel to our class. Camille is a Doctorate in Cultural and Global Criminology and introduced us to her doctoral research program ‘Change the Chick’, a program in a harm reduction in Budapest. Listening to her personal experiences about her doctoral research while introducing us to visual methodology was a great experience and a good way in learning about Visual Criminology, Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Photovoice.
Beginning with a 30 minutes presentation of her research and experience in Budapest, Camille explained to us how images are not just images. Especially, PAR can be highly flexible in a way that there are no fixed rules applied; there is a high grade of modelling around as well as a highly interaction between participants and researcher. Camille vividly explained that when she first arrived in Budapest at the harm reduction centre, people would be sceptical about her as well as the purpose of her research.
Her research focussed on a technique of PAR called Photovoice. I have never heard of Photovoice before and was rather curios about it. As Camille went on, explaining to the course that she provided the participants with cameras in order to take pictures of themselves, I became curious how participants would accept and handle that task.
Photovoice is a method of visual criminology and the difficulty within this method lies in the issue of anonymity and consent.
Discussing the issues of the method and also the experience of conducting such a research, Camille gave our class the same task. Provided with cameras, groups were established and a certain time amount was given until we were supposed to return to the course room.
For more information about the guest lecture and the task, see also here: https://criminologia.de/2014/05/participatory-photography-workshop-in-hamburg/
We decided to take the picture in black and white, which would neutralize the picture and our identity even more (one of us had very purple shoelaces; someone would have recognized her right away). Our intentions were quite simple: Only we are able to recognize single group members on that picture, others could only speculate.Surprisingly, during the discussion other students saw much more in our picture than we intended to. Through our reflection, anonymity was given, but still students could recognize almost all genders of our group members. Soon, we had a discussion about gender roles. The only male in our group was the one who took the picture, supported by his strong – build reflection (in comparison with the two reflections to the right side); we (unconsciously) gave him the leading role: taking the picture.
In the picture, our stranger holds the bag in front of his face in order to make his face unrecognizable and thus assure his anonymity. In the background you can see, how the bags were given away to other students that additionally lead to a homogeneous mass that would provide more anonymity for our chosen stranger. As we took the picture, we discussed within our group that even though our stranger was not recognizable, others would be able to draw conclusions. For some who know these bags, would recognize him as a student, male and average age of 25 and therefore the question arose if we provided him with enough anonymity.
Once again, a very lively discussion arose, pointing again to the gender issue. As student would recognize him as male, while holding a bag in his hands that show a woman in a rather sexy position and tempting cloth. Only later, would we recognize her as Katy Perry, which supports the point of wearing less cloth and therefore symbolising a sex object, because that is the image of her. Nevertheless, it was not our group’s intention. We were focussing on informational consent and anonymity so hard, that we did not thought of all the interpretation possibilities.
Personally, I really enjoyed the guest lecture and I learned a great deal from it. Visual Criminology and the technique of Photovoice is an interesting methodology, very flexible and open as well as interpretative.