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)
Artistic practice - Tension and expansion between photography and participation

My artistic practice explores the border area and tension between documentary photography and different participatory methodologies. Between storytelling in photography, participation, public art and visual activism. Operating in the intersection between photography as narration, photography as representation, photography as a tool of participation and photography as activism. The question is how to use this tension and social interaction behind an image to create art. How to develop artistic methods by alternating deliberately between a traditional narrative approach, where I capture and freeze meetings with different people – and participatory methodologies.

I've done several large projects since 2006 which can be described as participatory projects and other projects with no participants, just focusing on documentary photography. The productions includes photography, video, texts, social media, interviews, audio conversations, lectures, photo workshops, meetings, walks, public events, publications and artist books. The photographic work includes mainly non-fictional documentary colour photography. 

"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 2011)."

The social and practical situations that arise as a result of these different approaches is the very space where documentary photography and socially engaged art encounter each other. It is in this tension between a broad documentary activity and participatory methodologies, that my artistic practice can find a new context. It is between the two modes of process and outcome, when photographic subjects also becomes participants and co-creators of the work, that new connections can be made. Blurring the lines between art and documentary. I investigate the dynamics of meaning production found within – and between – documentary activity and a participatory part, which requires involvement from the public. Hence the focus on use value. 

I am passionate about photography. I use movements and thought patterns in the photographic practice to create an awareness of my artistic self, others and different social systems. I also enjoy engaging with different individuals and groups of people. Taking photographs and talking with people becomes a way of relating to the world and existing in it, a way to take a stance toward reality. I approach my 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.

One key area of concern is rethinking the documentary photography, its relationship to structures, methods, narration, movement, co-authorship, aesthetics, duration, ethical representation, cooperation, distribution, intention, photo sociology, outcome, usability, involvement, process and public shaping of projects. 

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 photos 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. 

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 vital question is how to navigate privacy in the digital age and the ethics of working with subjects, both individuals and stories. 

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. "Photographers often cite the reason for incorporating participatory methodologies as going some way to addressing the concerns regarding the authenticity of documentary material and the democratisation of “voice” (Andrew Robinson 2011:119)." So 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. The issue is how to create a space for aesthetic decisions and an artistic point of view while decentralizing authorship in a social art practice.

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).

My practice is based on a certain degree of idealism and a humanistic perspective. Empathy, relations, participation and cooperation are important issues. The same goes for interdisciplinary, cross-cultural cooperation, with local participants in site-specific productions, and public institutions to access different communities. With a cooperation anything is possible. I also have a political involvement in general and on behalf of art and artists in today's society. So far my work has examined various topics based on gender, ethnicity, social systems and relations. 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.


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).

An important part of the practice is to develop methods of participation. How can I include participants in a user friendly way? Or is my work primarily a cynical exploitation of others? 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).

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 can social interaction "behind" an image, lead to another kind of production? The practice alternates between a narrative expression and a dynamic search for another understanding. 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. The goal is to find an answer to the following question: How does participatory art function as a method to explore (expand) photography – if all. 

"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. 

I use social media for each project. The particiants have Administrative Rights and they upload their own material. In some cases the social media live on after the project has been formally finished. Like, which is still active two years after the project period. 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 (democratisation of “voice” Andrew Robinson 2011:119). 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 tensionbetween 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. How to tell stories about human right issues, social issues and gender equality.


[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




Democratisation of voice Andrew Robinson