After my first participatory video session with Insight Share, I couldn’t understand how it was possible that after years of attending college, reading books and participating in workshops on storytelling I had never even come close to the term participatory video (PV).
I used to think that finding an interesting angle and making sure my facts were correct was enough to make a good story. While I had a great time creating these projects, I was aware of the imbalanced power relationship between the storyteller and their chosen main character.
Today I can see that I was the one who controlled these stories from the beginning to the end. What if tomorrow the people who were at the center of my stories were in control all along?
Consent and Participatory Filming
Through InsightShare’s 5-day online participatory video course, we went through the different stages involved in making a participatory video. Let me give you an example of what happened on day 3.
We focused on consent in all its forms. I believe that most people today know the importance of collecting consent when creating stories. However, for many of us it might not go much further than a signed document. A one-pager where someone grants the authorization to use the shots. What about the choice of the angle? How trustful is a narrative that is built by the director afterwards? What if one week after an image is taken, the interviewee feels he or she has shared too much? How can a subject achieve full and lasting consent?
With participatory video (PV), consent is embedded all along in an iterative process. We learned about three stages of consent: the consent to participate (which happens at the beginning), the consent to be filmed (which happens before you actually start filming) and the consent to share (which takes place after watching back raw footage before you reach the point of sharing the video widely).
By discussing consent in different parts of the PV cycle, we can make sure that everyone understands what the implications of the project are and generate a sense of collective control. With comments like “If you don’t like it we can delete it”, you can start building an understanding of ownership as you go along.
Looking back in time
Thinking back to 2018, when I was doing my final project for the school I was attending in New York, I now feel I found the answers I was looking for.
I had the opportunity to document the life of a 20-year-old Hasidic queer woman from Borough Park, Brooklyn who still lived and worked in her traditional community. And while she wanted to share her story, I think it could have brought her more value if we had used participatory video.
I’m not suggesting that all documentary projects should be done this way, but I do think that all journalists should question how they collect consent.
Applying what I’ve learned
I chose to take this course because I was looking for new ways to tell stories. And although I was aware of the power I had with my camera, I couldn’t quite figure out how to work with the interviewees in a more collaborative way.
Moving from this extractive and controlling form to a more participatory one, made me revisit the potential of storytelling. With this new and fresh perspective, I’m ready to go out into the world.
Can you imagine if more people learned to report on people’s lives in a less extractive way?
Mercedes is a trilingual multimedia storyteller from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is passionate about creating intimate encounters between the photographer and their chosen main character. Her work focuses on the power of regenerative art and how it can help to decolonize our bodies and minds.