Muwa, top right, took these photos. I noticed she was more interested in being on the other side of the camera: The creator.
At the last session at NewCommForum with Robert and Shel, a woman in the audience comments: "I thought I was up on this [blogging]. I'm starting to see this underlying sense of empowerment. That people want to have a voice. Customers are empowered."
Yeah, and engagement is more fun than passivity.
Best decision I ever made was to take a simple point-and-shoot digital camera that I could hand over to locals. I gave it to the most curious 'kid' in a crowd. It made me a lot of friends along the two-month journey to Thailand and Sri Lanka when language was a seeming barrier.
Muwa's first day shots were formal, posed. The subjects were stiff. I think they're all accustomed to posing for photographs for foreigners - the strangers that swooped in after the tsunami and gave international exposure to the plight of the indigenous Thai sea gypsy community.
Wherever you go the world over, "cheese" smiles are contrived.
Yet something started to change.
Muwa began experimenting the second day I came over. In the cafe as the volunteers and I got bored with posing, she started to capture shots whether or not we stayed still. I didn't even notice she was still snapping photos of us.
Then she started to use the television set's reflective screen to create special effects: in one haunting photo (above, click to full res) our real-life cafe scene seamlessly blends in with a Bollywood-inspired virtual world.
Later she discovers that it's okay to turn the camera 90 degrees. And then she asks for my permission to take the camera into Tung Wa village proper.
Into areas I wouldn't necessarily have access to.
Villagers on siestas, joyously naked youngsters asleep and astride bikes, artful still-lifes illustrating her and her friend's fascination with motorbike and bicycle, pregnant moms giggling, kids shampooing their younger siblings...
As Muwa eased behind the lenses, and because she was already part of the community and culture even the posed shots took on a natural grace.
I only wish I'd thought of handing my camera to the three black-cloaked women sitting astride on a bench along the old fort wall in Galle, Sri Lanka watching the sun dip down into the waves.
Behind them a meadow fell away among cacti and palms and thirteen snowy egrets. Alas, the Muslim world is the one subculture I didn't get to deeply hang out in on my two-month journey.
In Thai, the word jai or chai means heart-mind (fused for Thais and Buddhists) and kao jai means deep understanding. There are times you enter the jai of another culture through the eyes of an insider - their selection, their framing, their angle, their interpretation, their poetry, their music, their essence. Thank you Muwa.
Bonus: The producers of Voices of Iraq distributed over 150 DIGITAL VIDEO CAMERAS across the entire country to enable everyday people - mothers, children, teachers, sheiks and even insurgents - to document their lives and their hopes amidst the upheaval of a nation being born.
In CHAIN CAMERA, director Kirby Dick relinquishes the video camera to let the students of this multicultural East Hollywood high school tell their own stories. Taking a new approach to the documentary genre, Dick decided to hand out video cameras in August of 1999 to ten teenagers in order for them to document their own lives for a week, at which point the cameras were passed on to ten more students, and so on.
p.s. These are only a fraction of the shots. You can see how this applies to what keynoter Rebecca Blood termed at NewCommForum "The Age of Participatory Culture", or the ProAm revolution; ethnography and 'deep hanging out'; artisan journalism; consumer-generated media; and learning about the world period.