This research project explored young people’s experience of photography and new media. Whereas previous research had suggested that young people generally are competent in the use of modern digital technology, there is a sizeable proportion of young people that has not had access to such media, and the research was aimed at enabling these young people to identify skills in digital technology in an informal setting. The research project was one of action research in which the researcher worked with the young people to develop a form of cultural participation in which the young people themselves defined and shaped the course of the research.
The space in which the research took place was an indoor market that was the focus for a major redevelopment project. The market was chosen because it provided a context in which the young people were both knowledgeable and comfortable, and thus diminished the hierarchical relationship that normally tends to exist between researcher and participants. The imminent redevelopment of the market provided a focus for the young people’s engagement.
One of the researcher’s main concerns was to remove any sense of a power relationship between herself and the young people. Her approach was that of an equal, with shared social experiences and understandings; this meant that she was identified by them as part of their community rather than a researcher coming in from the outside. This meant that she was in a position of trust with the young people, who otherwise would not have participated in the project. In order to sustain this level of trust she avoided using the traditional tools of research such as taped interviews. Initially, the young people were asked if they would like to take photographs, using whatever media they wanted. The choice of subject, and the form it would take, was determined by the young people themselves. They used the image making as a means of articulating some of their personal experiences, and often confided in the researcher, sharing information that might not have been shared with anyone in a more formal role, for example, teachers or social workers.
Along with other methods of dissemination, the images produced were displayed by the developers on their hoardings.
The initial aims of the project were met within the first six months. The project successfully demonstrated the facility with which these young people worked with digital technology, despite their previous lack of access, and the creativity they brought to the process. Further outcomes related to the nature of the dialogue between the researcher and the young people she worked with. It was this dialogue, in which the young people reflected on their experiences, and their feelings about those experiences, that enabled the researcher to identify the value of the images for the young people themselves.