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New course teaches photographers how to work with communities

Tuesday 12 June 2018

THE UNIVERSITY of Salford and Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery are introduce a new course showing photographers how to work alongside communities.

The new MA in Socially Engaged Photography Practice, developed and delivered alongside the contemporary gallery, is one of the first of its kind in the country and will see students working directly with groups and organisations involved in a wide range of projects.

As well as providing students with the technical skills needed to launch professional careers, the course also supports photographers to develop their careers within a community context, co-authoring meaningful work with a wide range of communities.

Collaborative working 

Tim Isherwood, who is leading the course from the University of Salford, said: “This isn’t about a photographer going in, taking pictures of people they have nothing to do with, and then displaying them in a book those people will never get to see.

“This is a much more collaborative way of working in which photographers are embedded within communities that have a collective issue they want to raise awareness about. The photographer will work with commissioners to identify a community to work with and build relationships up over a number of months.”

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The photographer and community members will work together to identify the subject matter, take the photographs and curate the show. Work produced as part of these projects is often exhibited in locations important to that group – such as hospitals, community centres or prisons.

Experienced photographers 

Experienced staff from Open Eye Gallery, alongside a cohort of regional photographers associated with the gallery's socially engaged programme, will teach the course at the University’s New Adelphi building.

Students will have access to facilities including 3D printing workshops, photography studios and computer suites, but projects will take place in communities students have identified themselves.

The course was developed following the success of Open Eye Gallery's Culture Shifts programme, a series of socially engaged photography projects in which artists worked with communities across the region to communicate what mattered to them.

One project that received national acclaim was Life Beyond Diagnosis, in which photographer Tadhg Devlin worked with members of Liverpool based dementia group SURF to create photo stories aimed at breaking the stigma associated with the condition. Other projects involved photographers working with LGBTQ+ young people in Sefton.

Emerging field

Tim Isherwood added: “These kinds of projects are becoming an increasingly important way of enabling communities to explain who they are and what they believe in, and there is an increasing number of photographers specialising in this work. We’re delighted to be working with this forward-thinking gallery to introduce one of the UK's first courses specialising in this emerging field.”

This is an exciting time for photographers and communities to come together to develop photography's potential to co-author artwork that resonates with society today.

Sarah Fisher, Director of Open Eye Gallery said: “The course will support students to explore approaches to collaboration and consider the processes and ethics behind a socially driven project. Open Eye Gallery will work with each student through the delivery of alive project within the community context from beginning to end. 

“This is an exciting time for photographers and communities to come together to develop photography's potential to co-author artwork that resonates with society today.” 

The MA in Socially Engaged Photography Practice with Community Experience is co-delivered by University of Salford and Open Eye Gallery. Applications are now open for September 2018. To find out more, head here.