Depth of Field, volume 5, no 1 (December 2014)Hilde Braet: Instrumental Photography. The Use of the Medium Photography to Stimulate Empowerment

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Identity and empowerment

I myself have organized photo workshops on ‘identity and empowerment’ for different target groups such as disabled people, cancer patients (figs. 3, 4 and 5), immigrant youths (figs. 6 and 7), women of varying ages (fig. 8), adolescents (fig. 9) and parents of children that were killed in traffic accidents (fig. 10). Focusing on a specific target group allows one to delve more deeply into it. The participants undergo the same experience and feel more at ease and better understood by the group. They are companions, as it were. In every workshop, I could see that this had a positive effect on the participants, instilling confidence and bringing satisfaction.

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Fig. 3. Hilde Braet, Girl with photo of her dead Mum, from Portrait=Self-portrait!?, Ado weekend Children’s Cancer Fund, Brugge 2007. ‘The little girl with the photo of her dead Mum... It is something she still cherishes very much. It was as if [...] she was carrying her Mum with her; it allowed her to show herself. She found it hard to express her feelings, but this was a way to show who she was and what was important to her [...].’ Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 4. Hilde Braet, Scars, from Portrait=Self-portrait!?, Ado weekend Children’s Cancer Fund, Brugge 2003.  Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 5. Hilde Braet, Judo, from Portrait=Self-portrait!?, Ado weekend Children’s Cancer Fund, Brugge 2007. ‘[...] almost everybody wanted to send out a positive message. One of them was Pieter-Jan: “Never give up, even if you’re blind, you can still take judo in a regular school [...].”’ Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 6. Hilde Braet, Who am I?, from Kids Pur Sang, De Veerman Project, Antwerp 2003.  Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 7. Hilde Braet, Who am I?, from Kunst en Techniek (Art and Technics), Canon Culture Unit – Ministry of Education, Ghent Institute for Technical Education, Ghent 2007.  Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 8. Hilde Braet, Gerti, from Het Zelf(in)Beeld (The Self(in)Image), Ghent 2010.  Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 9. Hilde Braet, Bullying, from Kunst als protest [Art as Protest], Onze-Lieve-Vrouwecollege, Halle 2005.  Hilde Braet.

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Fig. 10. Hilde Braet, Paul with photo of his dead child around his neck, from Jezelf voor en door de lens [Yourself in front of and through the lens], Ghent 2011.  Hilde Braet.

In my 2010 master's thesis, I investigated two projects in detail: one project that concerned middle-aged women and a second involving adolescents suffering from cancer.[7] Within the framework of this paper, the findings about how instrumental photography works are most significant. We concluded that working with photographs is a powerful means of communicating in a different way. Although the initial impetus is playful, challenging, and at times difficult, it is likewise experienced as being less menacing than when compared to conventional approaches to conversation. Again, working with images stimulates conversation. The various ways in which a photograph can be interpreted gives one a freedom that – especially in the case of the young patients with cancer – must certainly seem light to bear when compared to jargon used by therapists, educators, doctors or parents. Both the youths and the women dared to expose their vulnerability, experiencing this as a victory and a sense of being understood. As the psychologist the counselled the photo workshop observed: ‘This process of surpassing yourself, showing something of yourself, telling something to another in a way that does not involve words […] is so powerful.’[8]