When the subject becomes the creator…

Disclaimer: I have been working with the BBC Radio 4 appeal for the past 9 months, but I wanted to share this as I think it’s beautiful and incredibly moving. Below I explain how it came about.

For me, it’s an example of why digital tools and social media can have such impact on voluntary organisations that work directly with people. It’s easy for organisations to go about their work, but then use social media to slickly ‘broadcast’ their news from an official perspective. But more and more are realising the ways in which the tools themselves offer the potential for ‘clients’ to show or describe in their own words, how an organisation has helped them.

The Connection at St Martin’s helps homeless people by providing specialist services to over 200 people in central London every day. They offer a day and night centre, outreach for rough sleepers, skills training and career advice, activity programmes and specialist support for complex needs.

It would have been very easy to create an audio slideshow produced using stock images of homelessness taken by a professional photographer, a sympathetic voice-over and a Coldplay track playing softly underneath. Instead these photos came from a photography project at The Connection, where clients were given disposable cameras. At first there were discussions about providing particular themes (e.g. take a photo at dawn, take a photo of your possessions), but it seemed most appropriate to keep instructions to a minimum.

In addition, rather than doing formal interviews with the clients about their experiences, they had their usual weekly workshops and instead, all conversations were recorded, to produce natural dialogue about the photographs and the motivations for taking them. The audio from this particular slideshow was taken during an interview between Jamie and Libby Purves for the official Christmas appeal broadcast but there are plans that some of the other audio from the workshops can be lifted out and shared more widely.

The Connection already has quite a track record of using art as a way of working with clients and they have exhibitions of clients’ work and a facebook page profiling some of the artwork. Many of the pieces are absolutely beautiful and it’s wonderful that flickr and facebook provide a way of showcasing them to a wider audience. (It’s well worth clicking on these links. Flickr features all of the photos taken as part of the photography project, and the facebook page features different types of artwork created by clients at The Connection).

So it’s perhaps not surprising they just won a Talk Talk’s Digital Heroes award,  a scheme to reward individuals who are using digital technology to benefit their local communities.

Last year a poem by Jamie featured in an audioslideshow. According to Sally Flatman, the Radio 4 Appeals producer, “I think last year was, in a way, a building block for this year. We had Jamie’s poem which was very powerful but the only way we had of illustrating it was by existing photographs. We felt very much this year that we wanted the slideshow to be more of a whole, not pictures bolted onto someone’s audio or audio bolted onto someone’s pictures.  We’re learning that these slideshows can be a very powerful way of someone telling their story. “

Technology today allows anyone to become a creator, and when they do, the results can be absolutely stunning. Please share this slideshow as widely as possible this Christmas.

One thought on “When the subject becomes the creator…

  1. Very very touched, thank you for sharing Jamie’s photos; on my next visit to London, hopefully in the New Year, when I visit the National Gallery. I always pray at Holy Mass about noon time. I’ll be more
    than happy to make a small contribution; sorry can’t visit before and sending a cheque on a French
    bank may cause you extra expense.
    Thank you so much, God bless, lots of courage, warm hugs,
    Patricia Butler.

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