Participating in our own representation

I love doing the Phonar class. This Summer I had to talk about “Why?”, why I teach , why I think Phonar is important. The talk is here but in a nutshell Phonar , PhonarNation and other projects that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with like World Press Reporting Change are about enabling people to participate in their own representation. They’re about taking people who otherwise might feel anonymised by the vastness of the web and using it to empower them. They’re practical and applied workshops in Visual Literacy and Digital Fluency.

And they’re a means, not an ends. Phonar is a photography class but we don’t fawn over photographs. We use Photography as a means to do other things, to speak clearly with images and by making our classes open and connected we increase the likelihood of our speakers being heard. We think about the role of the storyteller, we reflect on how heavy the responsibility of telling other people’s stories would be and halfway through the course we all share a previously untold story (off record) with the group. It can be whimsical or heartfelt, but we do it to feel the vulnerability of the subject. That person in a photograph who stared down the camera lens, never knowing what page or screen they’d end up looking out of, or who’d be silently judging them from the other side.

It’s the one lesson I dread and every year I promise myself I’ll do a story too, but so far haven’t managed to. This year it was Emma Shea who rendered me speechless.

“At 14 I had my voice taken away from me. It has taken me 7 years to get it back. Sometimes I stutter, it’s inevitable. But now that I have taken back my voice, I will make sure I use it. Some people still don’t have there voices, it can take so long, some never get it back. For them, and for me, I can try to make sure I shout loud enough for the both of us.Emma Shea

They’re not easy sessions, but for some (conversely) they’re a moment to take something of deep personal significance and talk about it from a  position of strength. They, of all people really don’t need to do the exercise to know what it feels like to be a vulnerable subject so it’s very humbling to go through it together, and each year I leave it in the schedule to remind me of my why.






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Phonar - [fo-'när] is a free and open undergraduate photography class run by Jonathan Worth

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