Participatory Photography & Resistance: A Conversation
In 2017, we were involved in a participatory photographic project—Katy Jenkins as the lead researcher from the UK, and Lourdes Chuan Banda as both a participant in the project in Peru, and a member of the Association of Women in Defence of Life.
The project involved a group of 12 female anti-mining activists from the province of Cajamarca, in northern Peru. As has been widely documented across Latin America, large-scale mining is associated with a wide range of negative social, political, environmental, and health-related impacts, which tend to disproportionately affect women as a result of their gendered roles within the household and community. In many contexts, including in Cajamarca, women have collectively organised to enable collective resistance to current and proposed extractive activities.
The project, as we discuss it here, brought together women from three grassroots women’s organisations, who took part in a series of photographic workshops, initiating a process of collective and individual reflection on the issue of development, and what it means in the context of living with large-scale extractivism—in this case, the Yanacocha gold mine, one of the largest mines in Latin America.
Each woman had a camera and took photos, reflecting on topics selected by the group and capturing elements that were important for them in terms of their daily lives and the future of their families and communities. At the end of the project, we exhibited the photos, together with poems and narratives written by the women, providing them an opportunity to share their reflections and aspirations for development with a public audience. We have maintained a dialogue in the years since the project, and here we continue our conversation, discussing the benefits, impacts and legacies of the project, and the links between photography and resistance.
Katy Jenkins (KJ): It was very important to me that the project had benefits not only as an academic research project, but also for you, as participants in the project, and also your organisations. Therefore, the potential of the research to generate resources, in the form of the final photos that the project produced, was a central element. I always hoped that these photos would continue to be useful after the active phase of the project was over and could be used to promote the ideas and activities of women’s organisations. For you, Lourdes, how did you see the project before taking part, and what benefits did you envisage in the beginning?
Lourdes Chuan Banda (LCB): Knowing that this project would give us the opportunity to learn to photograph the moments that mark or impact our day to day lives, such as our struggle for water, our land, our resources as part of our existence as communities—this gave us hope. To be able to reach the world through photographs, which express and tell what we may not be able to say with words or what we see: how important Mother Earth is to my culture. This project is important for rural women as a tool that enables us to empower ourselves, to know that we are capable of handling the camera and looking at life with different eyes, that through photography we can protest against social injustice. The lens of a camera takes us to a magical world that we had not known before; photographs are not always seen or interpreted in the same way by me or other people—this is the visual mystique of seeing the world in different ways. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to learn in this photography course.
KJ: And now that the project is over, what benefits did you perceive at the time of the project, and also now nearly three years later? Have other opportunities arisen through having participated in this project, and through having gained skills in photography?
LCB: The photography project that you ran with our organisation has meant that we were motivated to take part in a photography competition and, although we didn’t win, it encouraged us to continue to take photos, making an effort to think through what we want to express about our reality. Have you thought about running a second set of workshops to complement the original project?
KJ: I was really pleased when you wrote to tell me that you had taken part in the photography competition, and I hope you’ve all been able to carry on taking photos and capturing the reality of your experiences as women and as activists. I hope to be able to continue our discussions and continue collaborating together, and also to be able to find other opportunities to develop our work together. But, up to now I’ve not been able to find any funding that would give us the opportunity to develop another, similar project. On this point though, it’s great that you are interested in finding other opportunities to work together—how was the experience of taking part in this project? For me, it was important that you all had a sense of being in control of the direction and development of the project, and the themes that we were investigating, but I don’t know to what extent we succeeded in this?
LCB: It was a magical experience because we were able to see that photography is a form of visual expression that allows one to communicate a different message to the audience. It’s extraordinary to see that through this method we have been able to awaken interest in conserving, knowing and caring for our environment. It makes one value every minute with nature, it allows us to see the threat that is posed to our existence as part of this world, if we do nothing to change. It enables us to question why we allow this destruction only because they have made us believe that it is the only form of development for our peoples or the country, when it is not true. Photography is part of knowing each culture’s world, worlds that few people even know exist and that deserve to be known and valued.
KJ: What were the most important aspects of the project for you and the other members of the Association?
LCB: The important aspect of the project was that it has led us to realise that there are tools such as photographic art that allow us to publicise the reasons for our struggle, to give meaning to making them known, raising awareness—each image is worth a thousand words. To capture the reality of a common sense of struggle, to enforce our rights that are violated in the countryside. To portray this in photography gives the possibility of capturing social and behavioural change. I also wondered how you felt about our participation in the project?
KJ: I feel very proud of what we achieved together in this project. You all dedicated a lot of hard work to the project, exploring the different themes, over quite a long period of time, and in a very independent and committed manner. The photos that everyone produced are impressive and they communicate a powerful message about the reasons that you all continue to resist large-scale resource extraction. I think that together we achieved a great deal, including the exhibition that we organised together in Cajamarca—which was such a lot of work for you, in particular. I remember how we had to obtain all the different permissions, as well as tracking down easels that we could use to display the photos in the exhibition. And of course, the photos and narratives have now been exhibited in Cajamarca, Peru; the UK; and Belgium, and for me this was a very important part of the project, to be able to share your perspectives with an international audience.
LCB: Yes, I agree that it’s really important that the exhibitions have taken place in those spaces, so that people can see how important it is for us that all of you and everyone else is able to know our reality through the photographs that we have been inspired to take. I think it is sensational to be able to reach people through the medium of photography, even though you are far away, and people can imagine or understand what we are like as people and perhaps even feel motivated to come and visit our community.
KJ: I hope that a project like this, with a creative methodology, gives an opportunity to capture a much broader perspective from research participants, especially in a context where over the years people have, like you, been asked to participate many times in investigations, projects, academic work, interviews etc. This was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to just be turning up with another research project designed simply to extract information, but rather I wanted to think about how we could do something productive and relevant, that would leave something tangible with the participants themselves, as well as doing something that gave the possibility of getting at more than the usual narratives and perspectives. To what extent do you think these concerns are relevant, and how far do you think we were successful in achieving this?
LCB: The truth is that projects like this usually do not exist; it was a great idea to develop the participatory photography project, which helped us a lot in giving us an understanding of how to use a camera. We’d like to have a second course to deepen our knowledge of the technical aspects, and this would be helpful in strengthening our own understanding as well as encouraging other women to use this important visual tool to allow other people to get to know the wonders and the activities of our communities.
KJ: What do you think are the advantages of using participatory photography in the context of researching women’s anti-mining activism?
LCB: There are lots of advantages, it’s a favourable method. We can use photography to engage with women who are resisting the loss of their territories to the mining companies, territories that have belonged to them for many years. We can even do recorded interviews with them to know with certainty the issues that are caused by mining concessions over their communities’ lands—photography is a great way to share this. The other advantage of this project is that it enables women to feel capable of carrying out research themselves, and it is therefore an important tool in our struggle, not only against extractivism but also against violence against women. It also breaks down the barriers that still exist that say that women should only dedicate themselves to household activities—those stereotypes that make women feel submissive. Now we know with certainty that these types of projects demonstrate that it is possible that women can empower themselves—anything that a man can do, a woman can also do. Participatory photography also helps us to weave cultural unity, strengthening our identity based on a respect for each individual woman without discrimination. Is it important for you to work with women’s organisations on these sorts of projects?
KJ: Yes, it’s really important to me to work in a participatory way, and in a way that benefits the participants in a research project and that can contribute to strengthening individual and organisational capacities. I hope that, in some way, I can contribute to the important work that you are all doing in Cajamarca, making the most of the various privileges that I have here (in the UK) in terms of access to resources, reach, and institutional networks. It’s difficult being so far away, above all during the current pandemic, and to not have the possibility of being able to coordinate with you all in person. Nevertheless, I hope that I can continue to support your activism from Europe, especially through disseminating the photos and important messages that you want to share. From my experience with this research, I can see that photography can be a powerful tool for exploring perspectives on large-scale resource extraction and for opening up spaces to share the experiences and perspectives of women activists in a way that is accessible and extremely relevant.
Below we share a small selection of the photos and narratives created in the course of this project, by Lourdes and the other participants.
I see in you the uncertain dawn,
the solitude that we are left by the destruction of our land.
An empty horizon, of eternal uncertainty.
Your soul invaded by the fear we are left with.
The anguish of living wrapped in a black shadow,
created by man through evil, selfishness and greed.
I hear the cry of mama Pacha [Mother Earth], the sadness of her children,
the breath of my wounded mother, her almost lifeless moan.
I lift my staff and fight for her.
I sense in you the steadfastness to protect our home,
the best legacy that you can leave us.
I taste the victory of an unparalleled fight,
against the extractivism that wants to take our land.
The variety of seeds that my plot of land produces. I sow with patience and harvest with pride.
And, as a woman, I put food on the table of my home, and I enjoy the good taste with my family.
Thanks to my Mother Earth and the warm sun and the divine blessing of God, who has given me water for my crops. Amen.
We are sharing food for ‘fiestas patrias’.
We have slaughtered a pig and we are frying pork crackling that we’ll share with our neighbours.
We are all happy. The children are excited and run playing all around.
The sun, source of life and health for people, animals and plants. The Incas worshipped the sun god, Inti, without him there could not be life or health.
The excitement of seeing the sun rise, everything changes, and it is the start of a new day, giving me strength to carry on moving forward.
For more photos, please visit the project website: www.womenminingandphotography.wordpress.com
Thanks are due to all the women who participated in this project and shared their time, thoughts and reflections so generously.
This research was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship.
WHO SUPPORTS US
The team of MAI supporters and contributors is always expanding. We’re honoured to have a specialist collective of editors, whose enthusiasm & talent gave birth to MAI.
However, to turn our MAI dream into reality, we also relied on assistance from high-quality experts in web design, development and photography. Here we’d like to acknowledge their hard work and commitment to the feminist cause. Our feminist ‘thank you’ goes to:
Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers
Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey