Black Belt 100 Lenses: exploring a participatory photography project conducted with high school students in Alabama's Black Belt region
This study examines the experiences of high school students who participated in the 2011 Black Belt 100 Lenses Summer Camp, a participatory media program implemented in Alabama's rural Black Belt region. A multimethod bricolage approach was employed in order to gain diverse perspectives through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and analysis of participant photographs and writings. Diverse theoretical perspectives--constructivism, critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire's Education for Critical Consciousness, poststructuralism, and feminist theory--informed my analysis and findings. Analysis of participant interviews led to the emergence of the overarching concepts seeing differently and getting out there as metaphors of experience. These concepts frame a discussion of the interactions students had with one another to form meaning during and after the camp. Connections are drawn between the structured and unstructured points of interaction during the camp and the following learning and innovation skills and processes: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and confidence. Students reported the development of all of these skills and the processes and environments leading to their development are discussed. This study also examines relevant literature on participatory photography projects, including photovoice and Literacy Through Photography, and the commonalities and distinctions between Black Belt 100 Lenses and other projects around the world. Following a critical pedagogic commitment to place and local knowledge, a discussion of the Black Belt region and students' relationships to their communities is included. Ultimately, this study makes an argument for the importance of diverse interaction in a creative learning environment and the conditions and impacts of the development of learning and innovation skills and confidence. Although the study is not intended to provide a road map for the development of similar participatory projects, there is a great deal of information included on the development, theoretical influences, and practical considerations that have formed Black Belt 100 Lenses. This study is valuable for a range of people from community-based arts practitioners, educators, methodologists, photographers, community developers, and people with an interest in the Black Belt region.