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Tracing the social contract of photography: how do we evidence the social collaborative engagement process in photography without undermining the value of the final visual outcome?

Wewiora, Elizabeth (2018) Tracing the social contract of photography: how do we evidence the social collaborative engagement process in photography without undermining the value of the final visual outcome? Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to reposition photography as a socially engaged arts practice, through the analyses of a body of recent practice based research. Firstly a nine-month residency working in collaboration with Over60s social housing group, Many Hands Craft Collective, in Ancoats, Manchester. Secondly a public residency & exhibition with the communities associated with the Mersey Ferries, in Merseyside. Both projects are framed and critiqued within the context of my previous and current professional practice, which spans fine art photography, arts education, curation and engagement. The research focuses more heavily on the residency with Many Hands Craft Collective. This residency challenged my current thinking around socially engaged photography practice, and resulted in a re-assessment of what I term to be collaboration and co-authorship. Collectively the critique of both projects raise questions around how those involved can affect the style and validation of the final visual outcomes. This critique, therefore, includes questioning what one means by validation and value. It does this through exploring different agendas and perspectives the photographer, community collaborators and audiences place in the construction and resolution of such projects. The thesis sets out the theoretical framework for which the practice-based research is delivered, supporting but challenging to what extent, there is a ‘social contract’, inherent in this medium as argued by Azoulay. The framework pays consideration to photography’s conflicted history, positioned between Ranciere’s thinking of photography as a “trace of the true” against Sontag’s view of photography as enabling the “voyeuristic stroller”. For the purposes of this research, which actively privileges the process of social engaged practice in photography, weight is given to Ranciere’s and Azoulay’s argument. The thesis further explores the principles of Helguera’s layers of participation, which discusses different approaches socially engaged art practitioners use for their collaboration with others. I specifically focus on the creative and collaborative participation methodology, which enables the most active and accessible approach to co-authoring art projects. The overarching aims of this practice based research, therefore, is to reflect upon how the principals of co-authorship in socially engaged photography can be challenged and developed.

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