This module has been incredibly challenging on many levels, not all of them photographic. Reflecting on this week’s content I can’t help thinking that it’s yet another week when I’ve been sharply confronted with an eye-openingly alternative perspective demanding that I reconsider how I am going to go about my project and my practice in general.
This week the focus was on workshops and how they might draw on the project or our practice in general. I had always envisaged a workshop being part of my output from this project, although looking back now my proposal seems to have been unsatisfactorily vague about what the workshop format might actually be. it’s clear now that this was born out of a dizzy naivety, as well as just a lack of appreciation of the potential implications that a workshop for my project might entail. I have previously delivered photography talks and also run loose workshops of sorts in the form of my night photography group in London. This partly informed my intention to produce a workshop for this project. There’s also the additional fact that I do sincerely believe that the subject in question lends itself to a format where open, and hopefully informative, discussion can be facilitated that benefits all participants.
As the first few responses have come in from my project collaborators I’ve had no reason to believe that a workshop would not be a good way to further explore the issue of urban solitude. I’ve been honoured so far that my respondents have felt able to be quite open with me about their experiences and this has provided a rich seam for further exploration as the project moves forward.
Today though, for the first time, I realised that I’ve so far overlooked a key responsibility I have while I’m eliciting this sort of information. That of holding safe those who are prepared to makes themselves vulnerable to respond to my project.
This week’s reading introduced the concept of Phototherapy, using creation or review of images in a therapeutic way, often addressing very traumatic or suppressed emotions. Martin (2001) writes eloquently about the experiences of some of her previous collaborators and clients with phototherapy. A recurrent theme is her sense of responsibility for providing a place of safety and support for those who were undergoing therapy with her, as they grapple with difficult emotions. This forced me to consider how, in the context of my workshop, I would ensure that anyone who took part and who might potentially be encouraged to confront uncomfortable emotions, would be suitably supported and whether it is even appropriate for me to put myself in the role of workshop leader if I’m not suitably qualified and confident that I could expertly provide this support and create this place of safety. This is an ethical consideration that I hadn’t previously contemplated but which weighs heavily once you realise it’s there.
"Since I have been in the client role I am well aware of the intensity and power of this way of working and so I am prepared for the possibility of very deep personal revelations occurring within a session. I have also learned by reflecting on mistakes. For example, I remember a time we had to end a session abruptly and I did not consequently have the time to de-role. I went home, on the bus, still dressed as my father. This was strange and potentially emotionally unsettling. I always now ensure that my clients have de-roled completely before they leave the therapeutic space."
It’s clear from this excerpt that there’s a risk of unearthing unsettling emotions and not paying enough attention to how these emotions are sensitively acknowledged and de-escalated.
Moving forward I must review how I conduct my workshop: how the subject is introduced, how the reflections of the respondents are elicited and how any revelations that occur are handled to ensure there is no adverse emotional outcome for the participants. I am going to consult my brother, a qualified counsellor, in the first instance for advice on how to address this concern.
Martin, R. (2001) ‘The performative body: Phototherapy and re-enactment’, Afterimage, vol. 29, no.3, Nov/Dec, pp. 17-20.
Falmouth university ma photography critical research journal