Following (not very well!) Freire

The Photography Collective was one way we tried to reach and awaken the consciousness of white people. Then came a still different attempt to do the same. This effort was built on what I am sure was an uninformed understanding of Paulo Freire’s early work in South America. His work in helping people to become literate often involved the use of images, which helped learners to identify both letters and their meanings. In the process he discovered that people often became aware of social contradictions which restricted both their learning and their lives. This consciousness of those contradictions became motivation for changing the oppressive conditions of life. The literacy program suddenly became the ground of revolutionary ideas which threatened the status quo.

We often wondered if there was any possible way of adopting the Freire model to white, middle-class America, some way of shaking the perceptions of a perfect status quo. One simple experiment in a suburban community involved people with cameras going through their community, photographing scenes, places, people in contexts, which represented “contradictions”. One group of people took interesting photos of the rear alleys behind the buildings fronting on their Main Street. The differences between the lovely front facades and landscaping seemed to them to be “contradicted” by the alleys. Behind the buildings were trash barrels overflowing, wasted food from diners, discarded furniture, presenting a different “picture” of their community. For a host of reasons we had to abandon the idea. Still, it remains for me an example of attempted innovation which was worthwhile, though it failed.

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