Last July, two exchange students from the University of Lapland (Finland) held a ten day photography workshop in Yekyundyu, a village of 350 inhabitants in Sakha Republic, Russia. Juliana Semenova and Marie-Noëlle Legault, respectively from the North-Eastern Federal University, Russia and University of Quebec in Montreal (UQÀM), Canada, teamed up to build a participatory-based project using an artistic medium as a communication and research tool, in this case digital photography.
The workshop was conceived for youth inclined to learn about photography, regardless of their knowledge level of the medium. The objectives of the workshop were:
To learn about modern photography, where it originates, who makes it, why it is made and how it is made
To experiment with different genres and techniques
To view photography in close connection to the history of art, home and place
To introduce the practice of looking at photographs and seeing how art itself can tell about people and their stories.
This project was planned to think of ways photography can be used by Sakha youth as a tool to reflect about themselves, their identities and their surroundings. With the advice of field experts and researchers from Finland, Russia, Canada and Australia, the two novice researchers refined their approach to the project, but most of all to the community, to be as respectful and sensitive as possible.
If lacking participants was one of the fears of the pair, it quickly faded once on the field as in total 22 people aged from 12 to 28 years old attended the workshop. Seven different themes were discussed throughout the workshop: light, document to expression, archive and memory, place, identity, play, visual narrative. The first part of the day was theoretical; philosophy, history, discourse of photography around the selected theme with the presentation of projects from professional photographers. The second part of the day was dedicated to practice around that theme. At the beginning, the two students had to supervise more the participants with project ideas and execution, but they rapidly got autonomous in their creative process.
In the end, participants worked on their individual or collective final projects and presented them to the community. The final projects mainly evolved around Sakha and Russian culture or the community of Yekyundyu. The youth generated their own ideas, planned and realised every pictures by themselves. Very moving and inspiring comments both from the participants and the community were pronounced. On one side, the participants realised that they can express themselves through the medium of photography and got to explore their culture and surroundings with a new approach. They also got to connect with each other in a different way. They were very proud to share their results. On the other side, the community got to see the youth of the village in action, creating something together with a talent they were not expecting.
As the short term outcomes of this first workshop are motivating, Juliana and Marie-Noëlle are looking for ways to continue this project.
They would like to arrange an exhibition with the photographs taken by participants and they are considering to organize other similar workshops in different villages. To learn more about the project, you can contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org