LECTURE: Brynhild Bye-Tiller; Participation and photography, Folkehelsealliansen, Nord university, Levanger, March 2022.
– My artistic practice can be described as participatory documentary, where I explore the tension between documentary photography and participatory methodologies. I have a documentary and investigative approach, says Brynhild Bye-Tiller. Alternating between a narrative expression in photography and exploring methods of participation, to address themes as women's right and migration.
ONLINE PRESENTATION: Brynhild Bye-Tiller talks about art, photography and The Kintsugi Project. Video from 02:10 minutes. Total length video 21:08 min. January 14th, 2022. (YouTube Opens In New Window)
The questions change over time, also how to ask, how to answer, how to follow up, which elements exists and how different elements materialize in the end? I have several core questions, some of them are known issues from socially engaged art and art in public space such as: Participants' real influence versus a mere apparent involvement, how to usefully engage with the individuals or communities documented in the photographic work? Or is my work primarily a cynical exploitation of others? To what extent have I managed to co-decide? In all parts or some parts of the process? What does it mean to engage other people in an art production? How has participation affected my work? What kind of structures and methods allows a human connection to blend witha traditional photographic approach? What happens when I capture and freeze meetings with different people and invite the same people to participate – when the previously ‘subjects’ becomes co-creators and participants? What happens when I create those images with people, instead
of of people? In a co-authored production, how do I meet the
needs of my 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 create a space for traditional aesthetic decisions from an artistic point of view, while decentralizing authorship in a social art practice? There is a lot of criticism against artists and a potential abuse of participants. Issues concerning
artistic autonomy versus participation and influence, alternative places to present art, alternative ways of producing and organizing art in public spaces and methods of collecting documentary material are also examined. How to collect and process documentary material? How to address the concerns regarding the authenticity of documentary material and democratisation of “voice”? How can photography be renegotiated? How can photographic activities develop methods of participation? How to facilitate an empathetic understanding and expose human right issues with an accountable narrative. What kind of narrative methods and related literary forms can challenge and expand traditional narrative structures? How to use social and practical situations that arise as a result of particpation to invent art? How to use this tension and social interaction behind an image to create art?
The artistic practice of Brynhild Bye-Tiller is within lens-based art, participatory art and art in public space. The participatory activities are often public, site specific and ephemeral. Bye-Tiller's photographic work is within a documentary tradition with non-staged images, use of natural light and authenticity.
Bye-Tiller is operating in the intersection between photography as narration, photography as a tool and a method of participation and photography as activism. The projects includes images, video, text, social media, interviews, talks, home visits, audio conversations, lectures, workshops, meetings, interventions, walks, public events, publications and artists books.
The projects are executed in collaborations with public institutions, organizations, associations, volunteers, individuals, groups, artists and other professionals.
Participants are immigrant women, refugees, asylum seekers, health care workers, cleaning workers, kindergarten workers, people with disabilities, next-of-kin and others.
Projects have been carried out in Trøndelag (central part of Norway), the Nordic countries and the Middle East as well as online. 9 out of 10 productions are presented outside traditional viewing venues, in an exhibition or in a publication.
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)."
"Photo workshop as a method of participation" is used in most of the projects. Read more (PDF)
BACKGROUND FOR USING PARTICIPATORY METHODOLOGIES
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, 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 taking photographs of the lives of different subjects and interviewing them, I do photo workshops, lectures, talks and walks. 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).
– A lot of what I do is a fight against injustice and inequality. I try to give a voice to those who are not visible, and somewhere between taking photos of people and inviting them to participate, I find a raw material for producing art.
PRODUCTIONS AND EXHIBITIONS OUTSIDE CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS
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)."
Completed projects: PARTICIPATORY OBSERVATION AND DOCUMENTARY METHODS IN EDIT PALESTINE (2019), 100 METRES (2017-2018), APERTURA NAMDALSEID (2016-2017), RAMALLAH TRONDHEIM SERIES (2012-2017), THREE WAYS OF FRAMING (2013), MY HOME (2012-2013), FORGO (2011), THESE WERE NOT CHOSEN (2011), INVISIBLE-VISIBLE (2010 – 2011), THINGS TEND TO BECOME DIFFERENT THAN YOU THINK (2010), WOMEN IN HEALTH AND CARE WORK (2006 – 2008) and DISPLACEMENTS AND BEGINNINGS (2004-2005).
Completed photographic essays/ audio productions: EAST JERUSALEM, PALESTINE (2019), PALESTINE GESTURES (2019), AWAY GAME (2017), TRUTH ON THE GROUND (2017), MY HOME (2012-2013), INVISIBLE-VISIBLE (2010-2011), REYKJAVIK RIOTS (2010), LABOR DAY (2007-2011) and SUBWAY PORTRAITS (2008).
QUOTE PBSP BROADSHEET SPRING 2014 VOL 1. NR. 1:
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.
THE VOCABULARY OF EVALUATION
• 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?
OBJECT/NON-OBJECT, OBJECTIFICATION, REPRESENTATION
• 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?
DOCUMENTATION OF SOCIAL PRACTICE
• 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