Pictures and Politics: Using Co-Creative Portraits to explore the social dynamics of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Aubrey Paige Graham


Co-creative portraits open space to explore the interaction of photographic subjects and photographers as they collaborate to create intentional images. This still photographic method explores how the space of photographic creation and the resulting photographs not only respond to, but also engage and reflect the immediate inter-subjective, and broader, regional politics. Particularly, I examine this method, and the photographs it produces, in the context of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo  - one of the densest spaces of humanitarian aid in the world. In North Kivu province, photography is produced daily for the purposes of fundraising, advocacy, and accountability. Aid agencies rely on the notion of photographs and their ability to ‘witness’ through portrayals of ‘documentary reality’. However, the visual imagescape of the eastern DRC is not bound by humanitarian imagery alone. In fact it is home to a thriving local photographic enterprise. Through co-creative portraits I examine the overlapping fields of ‘daily vernacular’ and ‘humanitarian photography,’ focusing on how individuals tack back and forth across these types of representation in front of the camera, particularly in response to dialectic social factors including space, time, and in their anticipations of their photographer. Therein, this article makes a two-pronged argument: 1) I argue that co-creative portraits contribute to the production of experiential, anthropological knowledge through photography. 2) With attention to the explanations, movements, and negotiations that produce the photographs, I argue that this method shows the constructed, subjective nature of photography, even in spaces of humanitarian aid.


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How to Cite
Graham, A. (2016). Pictures and Politics: Using Co-Creative Portraits to explore the social dynamics of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Visual Methodologies, 4(1), 10-29.
Special Issue: Participatory Research
Author Biography

Aubrey Paige Graham, Emory University (PhD Candidate)

Aubrey Graham is an Anthropology PhD candidate at Emory University and artist in residence at the Emory Center for Ethics. She holds a MA in Anthropology from Emory and a MA in the Social Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Graham is also an active photographer and has freelanced for IRIN news, World Picture News, Belga and SIPA press. Her research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo combines photography and anthropology in order to examine the region's humanitarian politics.