Reflecting on using photography as a creative methodology

This blog by Dr Melaneia Warwick recounts her role in briefing the participants taking part in i-CMiiST’s first creative photography hangout and the experience that ensued.

Vignette – Luthuli Avenue

A group of photographers of varying interests and experience walks into a busy downtown street to respond to a challenging brief: find ways to respond to the congested site and devise ways of working together creatively. Later they emerge with new thoughts on beauty, process and collaboration.

Photo - Scene of Luthuli Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by: Melaneia Warwick

Luthuli Avenue

The i-CMiiST Luthuli Avenue project is well under way in Nairobi; I was invited to join the team to support the development of creative methodologies in the project which speaks to ‘creative methods to co-design urban infrastructure to enhance mobility’. Plans were in place to utilise photography as a creative tool within the project: Daniel Onyango, part of the creative team had organised a Hangout, initially conceptualised as a one-off opportunity for like-minded folk to gather and respond to the site. The challenges of simply being in the street are vividly recounted in Mark Ojal’s recent blog post; for my part delivering briefings to two large groups of photographers at the noisy, congested junction provided a highly charged initial impression.

Developing Site-specific Creative Methodologies

I encouraged the photographers to develop site specific responses through improvised collaborations and planned to record their site-specific creative strategies as they developed. I wanted to provide some reflective clarity on this complex environment during and post the activity. At the on-site briefing groups proposed sticking together in clusters as a working strategy which is both ethical and safe and so we ventured into the street in this way. The group looked tentative, there was concern about getting the cameras out because of the risk of mugging; everyone seemed to be assessing, planning, absorbing. And then with increasing certainty, everyone got started. The group began to physically investigate the available space: getting low, getting in between and getting up. These new approaches suggested ownership, confidence and curiosity.

i_CMiiST-Creative-Photography-Luthuli-Avenue3 -Melaneia-Warwick

I was impressed at how quickly and tangibly the group changed. Now people came together in smaller clusters and there was a good deal of collective thinking going on: listening and talking, pointing, looking on and walking around together.

I was impressed at how quickly and tangibly the group changed.

The group was sharing not only ideas and approaches, but equipment: cameras were passed around and mobile phones came out. I saw lots of examples of people showing each other their images and later reflected that these acted as acts of group teaching.

i_CMiiST-Creative-Photography-Luthuli-Avenue2 -Melaneia-Warwick

Balancing the Brief

Being part of a group to make creative meaning in a site like Luthuli Avenue is no easy feat: photographers usually work alone and often in less dangerous circumstances. But the group rose to meet the challenges they were set and to articulate through their visual practices, the social conditions that the project aims to address.
i_CMiiST-Creative-Photography-Luthuli-Avenue -Melaneia-Warwick

The art that was made will be co-curated by the photographers for an exhibition that sits within Placemaking Week Nairobi in October. In the interim the work will continue to be developed as the group learns more creative methods. In the next blog I’ll reflect on this continuing work.

Words and photos by Dr. Melaneia Warwick @PRIA_ARTS

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