Brynhild Bye-Tiller
Artistic practice

Participatory projects

  100 metres
  Ramallah Trondheim Series
  Apertura Namdalseid
  Bridging Zip-Code 65
  Three Ways of Framing
  My home
  These were not chosen
  Things tend to be different than you think
  Invisible Visible
  Women in Health- and Care Work
Documentary & Other photographic work
  Away game
  The truth on the ground
  On/Off stage
  Documenting while caring
  Easter parade behind the wall
  Occupied West Bank Scouts
  Immigrants and refugees to the Nordic countries
  Icelandic Encounters
  Labor Day
  Reykjavik riots
  Subway portraits
Early work
Portfolio photo (Opens in New Window)
Tension and expansion between photography and participation

The main part of my artistic practice can be described as a photo-based social art practice or socially engaged documentary storytelling, which explores the tension and potensial between documentary photography and participatory methodologies. The practice alternates between a narrative expression and participation. What are the structures and methods that allow a human connection to blend with traditional photographic approaches? When does photography become a socially engaged act? When does photography create real social change? What happens when I capture and freeze meetings with different people and Invite the same people to participate? What happens when previously ‘subjects’ becomes co-creators and participants? How to use this tension and social interaction behind an image to create art? To create another kind of production? How to utilize visual language of documentary photography to activate for social change, while democratising the process of creating those images with people, instead of of people? In a co-authored production, how do we meet the needs of our collaborators (as the primary audience of the work), and communicate the primary experience to the secondary audience (anyone secondary to the people making the work)? How to usefully engage with the participants, the individuals or communities documented in the photographic work? How does participatory methodologies function as a method to explore and expand photography – if all. How to include participants in a user friendly way? Or is my work primarily a cynical exploitation of others? How to create a space for aesthetic decisions from an artistic point of view while decentralizing authorship in a social art practice? How to use social and practical situations that arise as a result of particpatory methodologies like a photo workshop to invent art? How to address the concerns regarding the authenticity of documentary material and the democratisation of “voice”?

The practice is within camera-based art, public art, participatory art, activism and site specific intervensions. The practice have a collaborative approach and I collaborate with public institutions, organizations, associations, volunteers, individuals, groups, artists and other professionals. The photographic work is dedicated to documenting issues like gender, social justice, migration, identity, racism and humanitarian affairs. With non-fictional documentary colour photography. Operating in the intersection between photography as narration, photography as representation, photography as a tool of participation and photography as activism. The productions includes photography, video, texts, social media, interviews, audio conversations, lectures, workshops, meetings, walks, public events, publications and artist books.

It is increasingly evident that expanded, participatory, and socially engaged photo-based projects are of public interest and in need of heightened discussion and analysis. Often, the very bones of these projects restructure the power dynamics inherent within representation, challenging the patterns through which we engage with media, distribution systems, technology, journalism and images themselves. "An increasing use of photography within social research with participatory approaches to socially engaged documentary and art based photographic practices suggest that convergence and crossover between these different, but increasingly intertwined, practices is deserving of further study (Andrew Robinson)."

Many of the most complex and exciting elements of contemporary photographic practices are invisible to audiences. They consist of relationships, compassion, patience and listening. They consist of really challenging oneself, as an artist, to give up conventions within the art-making process that subtly reinforce oppressive social dynamics. Being a participant is about being conscious and being enriched. "Community art is for many unknown as art, where the intellectual property markers, objects, experiences and attitudes are the core of art. The deeply human feelings that is not always so easy to catch. It may be politically, existentially or compassion (Hannah Kaihovirta FI)."



When a photographic project contains non-tangible components, what criteria can we use to evaluate those components? Could we use:
• an aesthetic that describes ethical integrity
• an aesthetic that describes structural beauty and complexity of the project
• quality of relationships
• quality of every component in a project, and how all those pieces fit together—i.e. from every email sent, to every tweet, to every image, to every piece of documentation, to whatever is the main event of the project: are all those pieces equally good and are they cohesive? Do they all serve the same goals?
• political impact
• personal impact, breadth of people impacted

When does a project really challenge social norms? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when and how do image-based projects truly create social change? Photography comes from, and occurs within, a set of social systems. Just as the photographer cannot be truly objective or outside of the situation he or she depicts in a given image, the photograph itself is not objective.

• If the ‘social aesthetic’ of an image (the social interactions that led to its production, exhibition, distribution) is forefronted, how do we critique it? What process of valuation can be used to address these intangible aspects of contemporary image-making? Are these emerging practices funded? What difficulties arise in discerning the ‘success’ of these projects?
• For artists who champion the ‘social aesthetics’ of contemporary images, the interactions that lead to the production and distribution of the photograph, and those that the corresponding exhibitions produce and inspire, become integral components to their projects. Within this framework, how is the form and function of photography being re-imagined by artists and institutions? How has this evolution been interpreted through critical, institutional, and ethical lenses?

• At what point does the audience enter our artistic process?
• How can we expand our art practices to include non-art audiences? Is transdisciplinary collaboration our main tool?
• What happens when an audience views a photograph that was originally intended for another community?

When does asking permission negate the value of what you’re photographing? Is it ever okay NOT to ask permission?
• Is it important for artists to come up with alternative means for exhibiting and distributing their images? If so, when have you seen artists and institutions push this further in interesting and powerful ways?

• In looking at other professions (e.g. medicine), ethical codes mandate actions that limit impact and focus on positive outcomes. Should there be an ethical code for artists and/or photographers? Should they be beholden to a contract/value system of doing no harm?
• What are the ethics of process, and what issues arise from that?
• So often one hears, “I began taking photographs as a way to meet people and be in situations that I would never have access to without a camera.” Is all photography involving a human subject socially engaged?
• If you’re using photography to connect with people, how far are you willing to go to connect with them?

• Photography is a tool of instant-objectification. But objectification is not always automatically negative. When can objectification be useful or positive?
• When are the parts of photography besides the object (the image) the most valuable part of the medium?
• How might the role of the artist in society change when the art object (the photograph) is no longer a commodifiable product?
• Is it important for artists to mitigate issues of representation and authorship for photography to be an effective tool for socially engaged art?
• In an increasingly media-saturated world, are images losing their ability to generate emotional reactions? What does it take for an image to stick out, have an impact and move communities to action?
• How has an image-saturated media affected image-making? Curating? Criticism?
• By focusing on the social aesthetic of image-making (the interactions that lead to the production and distribution of the photograph) does photography lose its power of replication?

• What is the role of the photograph as documentation in social practice?
• Ideally, documentation reaches secondary and tertiary audiences. How do social practice artists consider the ethics of representation when reaching those audiences?
• Is it possible to make documentation that is as effective/provocative as the original work?



I am passionate about photography. I use movements and thought patterns in the photographic practice to create an awareness of my artistic self. I enjoy engaging with different individuals and groups of people. Taking photographs and talking with people becomes a way of relating to the world. It becomes a way to exist in the world and to take a stance toward reality. I approach my artisitc practice as an opportunity to explore this fascination and consequently I increasingly work directly with members of the public. I’m inspired by the social turn in the art world. I’ve been a producer for large projects with international artists and this has influenced me. I like the fact that it is possible to do both: work with artistic autonomy and with participatory influence. Admittedly, this is also confusing. It creates tension and a certain ambivalence which I try to use when inventing art.

The practice examines how photography is understood and how different photographies can create new understanding. It examins contemporary art’s ability or inability to produce a meaning, or a frame [1]. Questioning the communication mechanisms and aestethic convensions that affect our understanding of reality. Questioning the practice of taking a photography is a central aspect of the work. And how do we frame our surroundings through photography? What kind of subtle, silent and in-built behaviour patterns do photographers use? What is his or her mental approach towards a subject and what do we know about all the decisions a photographer constantly makes? When documentary photography and artistic photography weave practical and thematic elements together, does it allow us to read a photography as something else? Other than to offer a meaning through a transparent window (which can be read, linguistically deciphered) into something actual [3]. How to facilitate empathetic understanding and expose human right issues with an accountable narrative. 

"For more than a century, social activists have used documentary photography as a powerfully persuasive tool to activate for social change through the use of the photograph as a credible document which examines and exposes conditions of social inequality (Liz Wells 2009)."

"For me, the photograph is the beginning of a process. It’s how you use that photograph, who you speak to with that photograph, how you influence policy makers and decision makers with that photograph, that is the important thing for me. Photography for me is just a means to an end (Marcus Bleasdale 2014)

An important question is why images matter. What makes a photography powerful? What facebook image does a Palestinian football girl choose to print on her birthday cake or select as her profile picture? And which cultural differences in ways of perceiving photography does she thereby reveal? This gap between cultures is highly relevant for new productions. 

The practice has a narrative focus, yet at the same time it opens up to a broader meaning. What kind of narrative methods and related literary forms can challenge and expand traditional narrative structures? How to tell stories about human right issues, social issues and gender equality?

The practice also looks into central questions within international photographic research and development. Among other things it questions how photography has functioned in multicultural, social and cultural contexts, and how developments in both technology and theory provide the field with new facets. Another question is how to navigate privacy in the digital age and the ethics of working with subjects, both individuals and stories. 

An important part of the practice is to develop methods of participation. How can I include participants in a user friendly way? Examples of relevant results can be found in WOMEN IN HEALTH- AND CARE WORK (2006-2008). During the project period absence due to sickness amongst employees went down from 20% to 13 %. Later on it returned to the original level. Was this due to the Hawthorne effect [4], or was it a result of participatory implementation? Another example is MY HOME (2012-2013) where art production enabled illiterate immigrants to communicate across language barriers. Photography functioned as a suitable medium for communication, allowing everyone to participate, both in front of and behind the camera. This kind of instrumentalisation of art has been discussed and criticized by artists and curators (Bishop 2012, Grant Kester). "The question is not instrumentality or not, but instrumentality for what purpose. Art can and should be an instrument for social change”, concluded (Mary Jane Jacob 2015).

It is increasingly common for artists to integrate participatory methodologies in their documentary projects, where artists work with other people in the co-creation of a public outcome. For me, the initial motive was to gain easier access to the photographic subjects. Another aim was to allow a broader picture of the participants’ everyday life and social issues to emerge and to challenge the concept of who is allowed to make visual representations. In addition to photographing the lives of different subjects and interviewing them, I do photo workshops, lectures, artist talks. I print the participants’ pictures and invite them to participate in the exhibitions. I record audio conversations and involve the participants in different parts of the project. I was not setting out to rethink my artistic practice. It was something that developed gradually. I was no longer satisfied to speak on behalf of my subjects, so I started inviting them to participate, side by side with "dual" exhibitions in two parts. Like WOMEN IN HEALTH AND CARE WORK (2006-2008). Compared with other photographers and participatory artists I have never let go of the traditional authorship. It has always been a combination of my own documentary work and the participants’ content. "This duality has to lead to the invention of new methods of documentation that serve not only to transmit the work, but also contribute to formal innovation within the disciplinary fields in which they are located" (Hannah Jickling 2013).

Usually the productions are implemented and presented outside the traditional art world. Alternative arenas are used for presentation as well as for production, arenas dominated by people who do not habitually interact with art. As for instance THREE WAYS OF FRAMING (2013), with an exhibition in the local accordion club house in Malm and the RAMALLAH TRONDHEIM SERIES (2012-2017) with an exhibition both inside and outside a swimming pool area in the city of Ramallah. By making art available through an unusal selection of venues, in both public and private spaces, it gives another kind of contact with people who are outside my social network, and this helps to develop ideas within a broad framework that joins art and life. 

The exhibitions normally include contributions from participants in order to give another perspective. Inclusive work methods with a high degree of participation have so far been successful, i.e. in the sense that participants have developed new meeting places and new social networks among themselves. Social change on a small scale in other words. Workshop material is being reused and giving lectures creates a bond between artist and participants. An important principle for me has been to let the participants use their own resources and capacities, and to give them space both to initiate and to shape the content of the projects. Sometimes the projects have had a direct, noticeable influence on the participants’ lives, which is a very meaningful way of working with art as an artist.

An excample of a positive tension between the two areas is through several photographic series in the RAMALLAH TRONDHEIM SERIES (2012-2017), little known stories from deep within the Palestinian contemporary Arab culture, was told. The project was concerned with identity and cultural differences. It attempted to break down stereotypes and misconceptions and it used participatory methodologies at many levels. Initially, it was meant to cultivate the photographic work, with less focus on the social art practice, but eventually the process proved to be a profoundly stimulating and rewarding experience, both personally and with regards to the way it has affected the end result and all the participants. “Microlevel social interactions that went into making the photographs as products were at least as important as the images themselves (Eliza Gregory 2013)."

How to craft an artistic representations that are relevant, formally inventive and usefully engaged with the individuals or communities documented in the work.

Social media is an important tool of communication and information in each project. Those particiants who wants gets Administrative Rights and upload their own material. In some cases social media channel continues after the project has been formally completed. Like, which is still active several years after the end of the project.

My artistic practice has examined various topics based on gender, identity, migration, racism, social justice and humanitarian affairs. The exceptions are THE LAST MONTHS (2012-2013), where I opted for a more personal approach, as well as THESE WERE NOT CHOSEN (2011) and REYKJAVIK RIOTS (2010). In these two projects I used a more critical and political approach respectively. In the RAMALLAH–TRONDHEIM SERIES (2012-2017), a side topic was artist's role in a conflict area. In the project APERTURA NAMDALSEID (2016) I focused on historical photographies.


Completed photographic essays/ audio productions: TRUTH ON THE GROUND (2017),
 MY HOME (2012-2013), INVISIBLE-VISIBLE (2010-2011)REYKJAVIK RIOTS (2010), LABOR DAY (2007-2011) and SUBWAY PORTRAITS (2008).


[1] Wikipedia: A frame in social theory consists of a schema of interpretation — that is, a collection of anecdotes and stereotypes—that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events. In simpler terms, people build a series of mental filters through biological and cultural influences. They use these filters to make sense of the world. The choices they then make are influenced by their creation of a frame.

[2] Solveig Lønmo, Art Historian and freelance Art Critic: «Sosialt fotografi» from the project: Visible Invisible 2010-2011. In Norwegian only.

[3] Roland Barthes. «Det lyse rommet: tanker om fotografiet» (La chambre claire, 1980) Pax 2001

[4] Wikipedia: The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation. 

«Framing på norsk — eller kampen om begrepenes betydning» Vox publica – magasin om demokrati og ytringsfrihet