This branch of photography has its roots in rural China, where women who had never owned a camera were given equipment by American health care workers in 1992, with the aim of potraying their own lives. Participatory photogaphy has persisted even into the modern era of instantaneous sharing of billions of digital photos worldwide every year, as the public image of some continues to be defined by others with very different perspectives from themselves.
Participatory photography places cameras in the hands of individuals captured as objects of photography and trains them to take charge of their own narrative. We may see people like them in their photos or people unlike them, but even the latter will be viewed through fresh eyes. A deaf child may photograph a hearing adult and focus not on the grownup's face but on her hands.
A milestone in this school of photography was the show Unbroken in 2004 in the Denise Bibro Fine Art Gallery. George Carrano and Denise served as curators. George and Jonathan Fisher also produced marketing materials in 2007 for a group specializing in this form of photography. Meanwhile, Chelsea Davis (who joined the Department of Probation in 2018 to become the linchpin of the Seeing for Ourselves/Department of Probation partnership running the new effort), operated a program of this type in the oncology ward of St. Louis Children's Hospital in 2007.
And then Project Lives itself became a landmark in the field, one of the largest applications of the practice anywhere.
Child Photographers Show Lives of Hardship and Hope
The New York Times, July 10, 2004
Judging from an unusual visual diary on display in a Manhattan art gallery, the globalization of childhood has a long way to go.
PhotoVoice brochure, 2007
CONTEXT. Today, more than at any time in history, images bombard and envelop us.
St. Louis Children's Hospital, 2007
Photography workshop in Oncology ward.