How does a solutions focus change the frame of documentary photography?

Documentary storytelling regularly focuses on the problems around us. While such investigations are both necessary and vital for a democratic culture, they do not, by themselves, offer a comprehensive picture of the world, and need to be supplemented with different perspectives.

Solutions journalism is a new perspective in visual journalism that changes the frame of the story to address “the negativity bias” in the media. Rather than focusing on problems, solutions journalism looks for where people are already taking action to deal with difficult issues. As such, a solutions story is the product of rigorous reporting on efforts currently underway to respond to a problem.

In this event we explore what a solutions focus in documentary photography and photojournalism involves, why it is important, and show some recent work that embraced this alternative frame.

Indonesian photographer Michael Eko and American photographer Celia Talbot Tobin present work they produced for the Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative. They are joined by Kyser Lough from the University of Georgia, who discusses his research on visual communication and solutions journalism, with an emphasis on photojournalism.




David Campbell: So in this event, we’re going to look at how a solutions focus can change documentary photography. We’re going to explore obviously in some detail what is meant by a solutions focus. We’ll get into that, and we’re joined by three people. Michael Eko joining us, documentary photographer joining us from Jakarta in Indonesia; Celia Talbot Tobin as a documentary photographer joining us now from from Wyoming; and Kyser Lough, is a professor in the journalism school at the University of Georgia and who researches solutions journalism. And I brought these people together, because in my previous employment at the World Press Photo Foundation, we organized something called the solutions visual journalism initiative, and as the talks are going on, I’ll drop some of these links into the chat. And that commission six photographers to explore this new perspective of what our solutions focus is. And I’ll provide some links with some more background on that, but in a nutshell, I take our solutions focus to be an approach to documentary photography, which starts the narrative in a different place that instead of focusing on a problem, it focuses on people or communities who are already responding to a problem. It’s not proposing to change all of documentary photography and replace all of documentary photography is a perspective that’s meant to supplement traditional approaches, by changing that starting place, and that narrative, and it’s definitely not meant to be just positive or fluffy stories about good things in the world. It’s meant to offer actually a critical, rigorous and journalistic account, but from a different starting position, the starting position being already those people or communities who are responding to a particular problem. So Michael, and Celia was supported by the solutions, visual journalism initiative to do their stories, they’re going to show us a little bit of those stories. And then Kyser did research on, as part of his body of research on on solutions journalism, into how the photographer’s went about the work, what the work involved and why this perspective, you know, can be important and can contribute something. So the running order is going to be Michael is going to do a short presentation first, then Celia, then then Kyser. And as I said, at the beginning, if you want to drop questions in, drop them into the Q&A box, and I’ll ask those as we go along, and we’ll also leave time for questions at the end but Michael, why don’t you share your screen and kick us off and introduce your story and the solutions focus of that story.


Michael Eko: Okay, thank you for having me. And can you see the screen now? Yes. I will try to make it. Okay. Can you see the forest from above? Okay. So this project is about an indigenous people in Borneo in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. So the indigenous people, our name was (Not sure of this spelling?). It is an indigenous community in North Kalimantan Province, in Moreno district in Indonesia. And what I look for from them was, how they protect their forests and assessed ancestral land through participatory mapping and social forestry. They started the program on 2012, and eventually, in 2017, the money in our district government granted a decree that recognize and protect their customary community and the forests. So it gives them the full rights to protect and manage their ancestral land. Meanwhile, in the surrounding area, there are coal mining and palm oil plantations. So this solution works well in the community. But when I, when I continue this project there by the end of the project, I found that a new question that must be faced. So it’s about how they decolonize the space so, in historical perspective, they are marginalized. So before we talk about how they colonized the space, we need to know how the colonialism happened in the past and impact their life. So I found this archive from Leiden University libraries and it shows the European colonies with Poenan men and women in Africa and Borneo is a high clan in the central Borneo and during the Dutch in this colonial government, the government then create to settle the Poenan from the forest. They make a permanent villages outside the forest. So this settlement allowed the colonial authorities to monitor and control the tribes. And then after the decolonization, Indonesian and Malaysia for this part I specifically talk about the Indonesian side. The Indonesian New Order government led by General Suharto continued the policies of the Dutch, the organizing and registering permanent village, for the Punan outside the forests. So the Indonesian government could manage developmental programs easily. And this is what happened when they move outside the forests. Since 1968 onwards, concession for logging, mining and palm oil threaten the Punan forest. So it started in 1960s, when the new order government of Indonesia welcome the foreign investment into the country. Their economic team justify that this foreign investment could propel the country’s was war economic recovery. But in the end, this massive foreign investment started to dominate the land through their concession. As consequences the indigenous people they didn’t have rights to claim their own land, their ancestral forests. So with no control over their ancestral lands, these indigenous people were forced to live on the margins of society. And this is what happened now the coal mining happened in the upstream area, in Punan, and caused our ship to go to Indonesian and global market.


Michael: And then in 2005, the Punan Adiu met Niko Boro, and later, he is a key person who helped the Punan Adiu to map their land, their forests, and ancestral land. So Niko Boro, with his organization, started to work with the Punan Adiu community to map and register their ancestral forests, and it requires a lot of work, a lot of fieldwork rechecking data involving communities from neighboring villages, and also lack of confirmation and public consultancy. So when all the stakeholder approved the final map, the Punan submitted the document to Molina district government to get authorization of Punan land ownership. And this is a copy of the land water agreement from the neighboring village from the neighboring communities. So it’s like peer reviewed and authorized by a neighboring village. Maybe it’s like a block chain or broken system where no other community taking part and authorize that Punan Adiu as the land owner of the ancestral forests. So to give a comparison, what is the impact of their solution, like the impact of the participative mapping and also forests registration, we can see in the left side that it’s before the Punan Adiu got legal recognition, the government plan the forest to be conferred into commercial concession, and only small part is protected for us. And after the Punan Adiu got the recognition and rights, it’s really changed a lot, and most of the area now are protected forests, only small area use for farmland or timber supply, and the fallow land for agriculture, and practically, they only use small part of the land, so most of the land are preserved as protected forests. And this is how they protect the forest after they got the recognition, they do the forest patrol and, they protect their big trees and all trees and all of their forests. And this one, why the forest is important, like and not only the all the doing the hunting in the forest, but also for us has medical plants, and medical or herbal remedies for them. So I was there in the early time of COVID, and when we don’t have a clue or information about COVID, they use their local knowledge that all this leaves or this plant will protect their family. And I also use this specimen I collect the leaves with them, I collect leaves from the forest with the community and also doing geo-tagging of the satellite image. So they have document about where is the plants grow, and how is the shape of the plant. And maybe I can share for a while about the story map I create for this project, you can find it in in the project website. Okay, can you see the story map? Anyone? Yeah, so I use story map from (inaudible)..


Michael: You can see that most of the herb for the herbal remedy the location is in the creek or the river. So even when we travel or we just going around the river, we can find many herbal remedies, and it means this forest and the river is really important for them. So when the industry killed the river, it means they can kill the people. And it’s somehow it happens now with the pollution from coal mining. Okay, I will back to my PowerPoint slideshow. And Lunang Thlang Ota Ine is their cosmological philosophy that nature is their mother and their mother, breastfeed them from the forest. And this is a Malinau river where the children play in doing their daily taking bath and also basically Punan Adiu will known as a hunter. So they hung in the forest they find wild boar and another animal and this one is the snake as one of the proteins for the community and this is Gaharu or Eagle woods. This is a sales crop. So this is a growth for agroforestry plants. So when they plan this trees, the forest floor also can grow another plants the smaller one, so they sell this Gaharu and use it for perfume and incense and the sales from the money from their sales, they can use it for children education or another daily needs. And this is Ura, Ura takes a rest during her farming work. And when I talk with her, she complains that threats have destroyed her harvest in 2020 and previously, in 2019, a long drought destroyed her crops. So this is how the climate change really affect the community and affect their food insecurity. And how they deal about it, and good thing they have the forests, so when the agriculture got hit by the disaster of climate change, the forests still provide them food or another source for life. And this is how they work, they don’t have boss or they don’t have any employer, so they share their men or women power. They call it Senguyun culture. So in Senguyun culture, someone exchange their surfaces to a mutual benefit. So for now, instead of being paid by money, the workers can request the employers and friends to work in the future project or works. So it’s like sharing their men or women power to help each other. And by the end of the project, I find a question about their future, like when they have close contact with modern civilization, how their traditional will be in the future. So like this one, Mariana and her children travel, from Malinau to nearest town, she sell cash crops from her farming and buy livelihood stocks when she went back to the village. So this open access to road infrastructure and also close contact to modern life with the community to have new lifestyle and adapt to modernity while still maintaining their subsistence culture.


Michael: So it creates a questions about their lifestyle changing in the future and how will they protect the forest. And like this one, children started to enter the field. It’s the cultural gap between the elders and the young one. So in the context of solutions community, I think that, yeah, in some part, there are progress but people change, community change, how the solution can adapt to the change in the community? And this one boy carries his puppy, so dog is Punan’s best friend. They are always accompanied by the dogs when doing hunting in the forests. So with close contact to modern life among young people like this boy, when he started to play, YouTube or online game, will the young Punan continue their culture as hunter/gatherer when they started to go to the city or the nearest town or migrate to another area? Can we still protect the forest like what their ancestors did? And this one he is Ansel so Ansel is really good in doing hunting, he can do night hunting alone in the forest. And sometimes when he come back from school in the town and he come up to the village, he joined with his parents to go to the forest going fishing or hunting and it’s create a new question for me in the end of this project, and another problem is when the community can protect their forest. How about the surrounding area, where the coal mining or plantation already exists and create pollution? So, in the end of the day, Ansel didn’t get any fish in Malinau River, it was polluted by the upstream coal mining. So he went to the entire area in Adiu river, and he can find many fish in that area. So I think, by the end of the day, before us, still protect the people, and people should protect the forest as well. And as a conclusion of this, I want to quote John Powell song about how people get their political representation. It is the part about land reform by leverage. So land reformed by leverage really takes time, this is a reform where by which peasants in organization they have formed and managed, bargain with overlords or government from strength they have already achieved. And only through reform by leverage, thus the peasant acquire in the long run, an equitable distribution of welfare, and adequate political representation. So what they, what Punan Adiu did, it really takes a long time, because in the, in the third world country, most of the strategic resources is controlled by government, military, or any power, or any people in power. So what the community can do is really takes time to get to leverage their position, but I think, with this patience and persistence, the result will be transformed. How the society like, what, like, what Adiu did. They can decolonize the space, and finally they can protect their forest. So please visit the project website, I put the story into the project website, and you can explore to the story map and the picture as well. And thank you for the solutions visual journalism initiative to support this project. Okay, thank you everyone.


David: Thank you, Michael. That’s great. I mean, Michael’s story is an incredible example of a story with a solutions focus, because it’s very clearly working with a community and documenting community who are responding to a series of problems about land ownership and how the land is used and so on. Michael and Celia were part of a group of six photographers supported by the solutions visual journalism initiative in the channel, I put the links to the stories which sadly is not running anymore with WordPress photo, but you can see more about each of the stories with the first link. And I also put in just then the full the link to Michael’s full project website because one of the other things as you can see that he did is not only do a photographic story, but he has this interactive site where the project is located and he did a great job in showing that in a very short space of time, Michael, but it really deserves a lot more attention so people can have a look at his website to do that. Celia, how about you share your story?


Celia Talbot Tobin: Yes, okay. Thank you. That’s such a great that’s a really cool project, Michael. I’m intimidated by the thoroughness of the website and the final iteration. I am still pitching my project trying to get it seen and published.


Celia: Okay this is working. Okay. Well, some, I don’t know how common this phrase or refrain is heard, but some people might have heard the famous, there’s a famous Jacques Cousteau quote, that in which he called the Sea of Cortez the Aquarium of the world. And it is essentially a wide strip of shallow sea in between mainland Mexico and Baja, California, which is contrary to the name a part of two states in Mexico, just south of American, California, Baja California came first. But it’s considered to be one of the richest marine environments in the world. And as well as having historically one of the most diverse ecosystems, it was a study of was a point of study for Cousteau and many marine ecologists. However, like many environments around the world, through full environments, it’s been subjected to decades of overfishing that have left, you know, both the communities that depend on it at risk as well as many of these micro ecosystems within it sort of teetering in a precarious position. And in this sort of, on slot of coastal development and overfishing, there are a number of communities on both sides of the of the code of the Gulf Coast that that are approaching sustainability, taking sustainability basically into their own hands and doubling down on sustainability tactics, the most common of which is voluntarily not fulfilling their fishing quota that they are allowed to take, which is a quota set by Mexico’s Aquatic and Wildlife Division. So I spent time well, significantly, what my focus that I was most interested in was the, the gender gap that has long existed in the fishing community, but how so many of these initiatives, I think significantly and fascinatingly, are being led by women. Now, the community that I ended up spending time with is not actually the community that I started out in, I began living, I was living in South Baja and began in a different community. And I only mentioned this because I think it’s a relevant obstacle and talking about solutions storytelling as something that can potentially exist. And this is something I spoke a bit about with Kaiser when he was doing his research, but I think with solutions, one thing I was slowly gathering is that when it comes to solutions storytelling. We all I mean, I think as humans, we all want solutions to the myriad of issues we’re faced with and we want to inspire other to do the same. And sometimes, occasionally, if there’s other parties involved, like nonprofits, and NGOs, I think one of the tasks that I didn’t necessarily foresee was sort of parsing through and deciphering what, like the extent to which solutions were really being implemented, because there can be something to gain by, you know, both with governments and nonprofits, they, of course, want to promote something that they see is as action that they are helping to fund or takes things that they are proud of. And that’s very understandable, but sometimes it doesn’t quite embody or go is as deep as I think they would like to promote it as being and so that was a sort of challenge that I came up against in the first community which is where I was stating, which is that the solutions didn’t seem to go quite as deep or as thorough, especially when it came to gender empowerment as originally it had seen or been promoted. So I just wanted to mention that as a relevant point and sort of takeaway that I had in focusing on solutions and what it means to find and connect with people who were really putting words into action. So, that being said, this community that I ended up with, is actually three tiny communities nestled right together, in and around the Baya el Tata (spelling), which is atop the bay, it’s carved into this scene alone coast, the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, on the south east. edge of the Gulf of California. And several fishing cooperatives here that were officially formed in 2017, are made up exclusively and entirely of women, which is pretty unique. And they are trying to preserve their very fragile lagoons, in part by changing the way that women are seen in the world of fishing and seen and heard and which, you know, fishing, not just in Mexico, but I mean globally is as an industry is historically very dominated by men. But since 2017, these three collectives got their license to officially form, they often work together. These are tiny communities that are sort of along the edge of the estuaries of they’re called deltios, and aguamitos (spelling)and el Tata. So they’re individual collectives of women, but they often band together to support each other and work together, and have been very vocally pushing for better enforcement of environmental regulations that are currently being very brazenly flouted largely by ever expanding shrimp farms, which is a very big industry in the Gulf. And they, these shrimp farms really dominate the landscape as you move inland a few miles. They’re highly mechanized, very expensive endeavors that are often have political money behind them. And they pull water from these estuaries and then dump it back out, filled with a lot of nutrient runoff. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not really nutrient runoff and, and wastewater without being treated, which is supposed to be required. But according to these women, they’re pretty intent that those regulations are easily bypassed through essentially enabled through corruption at every political level, which includes the national aquaculture and fishing commission, that hands out permits and is supposed to regulate these shrimp farms. So each of these collectives has jumped through substantial hoops in order to acquire basically, low level permits to collect certain bivalves and I should say that they the translation in Spanish is fisherwomen. I mean, they call themselves fishermen, even though in English we might..


Celia: Well, yeah, there’s different terms all around the world. What they’re doing is collecting essentially types of, of bivalves, so it depends on which lagoon they’re in, but it can either be different types of oysters, clams, mussels, so they’re not swimming fish, but yes. So this is an example of this is a very particular as different very different specific areas and each estuary where you would go for each species. This was a very specific muscle that we were taking for and you can only go at low and almost for all of these you can really only access them at low tides. So, the solutions approach that these women are taking is is pretty multitiered. They, I mean, firstly, I would say they’re really focused on extending their permits that they have to expand what they can collect, and it to a wider range. One of their obstacles is that they feel the environmental regulations that are dictated on what can be harvested, is very broadly applied to the to the Gulf of California as sort of a sweeping overview, so the fish and aquaculture organization will say, you know, this species can be collected, this can’t but what that misses when you apply it to the entire Gulf of California is that different species are flourishing, or not in very different small ecosystems and estuaries along the Gulf. And so one thing they’re committed to is, is trying to get acquire permits to collect more, a wider variety of native species that are doing very, very well in these estuaries. They also are trying to grow their market to expand inland to the state capitol. Right now. It’s sort of limited to local vendors and restaurants right along the Gulf, the coast, the state capitals inland about an hour and a half, and is the largest city in the area. And possibly, more importantly, the three collectives these three women’s collectives are trying to come together to form a legal federation, which is essentially the next level of organizing up there’s sort of different tiers of organizational formations in Mexico and federation’s wield much more lobbying power in terms of well with national discussions on environmental, environmental federally dictated regulations. So, I mean, this is from, I happened to be there during their annual Dia de la Marina Nacional, which is now National Marine day, essentially, which is something that’s celebrated in many communities along the coast. I was in Aguanitas with one of the collectives is it’s a very fair, regal princesses crowned. And basically, everyone celebrates all things fishing for three days of festivities, so life in these communities is very, very, very dependent on fishing. But there is this split right between those who ended up feeding into the, the larger industries were often bring in outside, for example, these large shrimp farms are often recruiting people, not from coastal communities to come and work in them. And there’s this sort of friction between them and the smaller fishermen who are working very hard and vocally to implement regulations to get regulations strongly enforced on these large scale farms, as well as paying much much closer attention to what is actually sustainable and happening in the estuary and fishing only what is there. And a big part of that is also leaving pieces of these ecosystems voluntarily, sort of siphoning them off in order for the seabed to restore every few years. Most of my time was spent with a lot of my time was spent with Yanet Castro, who was this woman here in the middle. She is president of one of the collective such so she’s easily the individual most responsible for leading the charge among these three groups since 2017. And the, the spine of her conviction, I would say is that women in particular, this is an example of of the shrimp farms, which really kind of decimate as they’re built. They’re also raising mangrove forests inland to the ground in order to put these in. So you can see the pretty stark difference. For example, between collecting out in the estuaries amongst the mangroves, which is very, very intense physical work, and requires being fully decked out, head to toe in protective gear because you’re, there’s branches and rocks and very sharp, pointy things. Everywhere your body goes, and you’re reaching into even point to your mucky soil to graphs, very sharp bivalves, so it’s very, very hard work. I’m just pointing that out but anyway, the spine, I think of Yanet’s mission is really to change the story of fishing, and changing the narrative of the role that women in particular can have in this industry. She comes from a family a long line of fishermen, primarily and the men her family, and she explains that women this is Yanet, that women have always played a role a pretty critical role, but it’s, always regulated to the sidelines, right? It’s kind of invisible work. It’s secondary supportive work of the men but she would frequently mentioned during our time together, though, the ways that she sees women in her community as being particularly adept in creative problem solving in ways that in her observation, the men aren’t which could be, you know, perhaps a consequence of habits or long established practices that they’re just sort of in the routine of but perhaps being so entrenched in those routines if when things start shifting due to climate change, due to overfishing, due to, you know, having to face the sort of standoff with these larger farms. Her interpretation of events is that the men really kind of freeze because they only know how to do what they’ve always been doing and so she believes that women have a vital, vital role in seeing things differently and finding creative solutions, and she is she’s very fierce in that. And I’ll, well, at some point, she’s, I’ll just close with this thought. I wrote down a quote that she said, that I really liked. At some point, when I was nearing the end of my time, she was talking about her family history, and said, “I know what my grandmother lived through. And I know that she did not have the same opportunities as me but why it’s only because she didn’t realize she could, and that’s very much like how I used to be I used to not know many of us used to not know that we actually have the same rights. We believe the sea belongs to everyone.” So yeah, I’ll leave it there.


David: Thank you, Celia. That’s fantastic. If you can just end your screen share, and then we’ll pass it over to Kyser, Kyser while you get set up. There’s a question from Aki which I will pose to Celia and to Michael, just think about, and we’ll come back to this at the end and I’ll make a brief comment on a two. The question is, sometimes when you embark on a solutions focused story, you approach it with certain idealistic assumptions. How do you deal with a situation when your initial assumptions are challenged in the real world? After all, there are no perfect solutions for hard issues related to social and environmental problems. So think about that, and we’ll come back to that. I mean, I would just make one comment before we go to Kyser and that is, I remember when I first discussed this with someone in photography, the solutions focus, their response was, it’s not up to the photographers to come up with solutions. And I was like, damn right. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about finding people in communities who themselves are already engaged in solutions. And I think both Michael’s and Celia’s stories demonstrate that perfectly. So my one response to Aki, before we get to a more detailed response, at the end, is that what Celia and Michael and others are doing is documenting things in the real world. They’re documenting real communities who are engaged, you know, as Celia said, you know, these, these women pursuing solutions themselves, they’re taking sustainability into their own hands. And that’s not something imposed by the photographer from outside but nonetheless, there are important assumptions that are questioned. So Kyser, over to you.


Kyser Lough: Yeah, absolutely. That was a great. That was a great response. That’s a really good question, as well. Hello, everyone, I’m Kyser Lough, Assistant Professor of Journalism here at the University of Georgia. And today, I just want to kind of talk a little bit about what we know from a research side about solutions visual journalism, as well as what this initiative is really helped us to be able to do. So just briefly introduce myself, my main research mission is to improve our understanding of visual communication, specifically in how news images are received, selected and created, which has taken me to looking at newspaper front page pictures. I’ve done extensive work on concert photography, which is a fascinating realm of photojournalism and fine art and everything in between, as well as even looking at photojournalism competitions. So how do judges discuss these award winning images? How do we elevate certain images higher than than others, and what that means for photojournalism. But I also study solutions journalism and that’s taken me into looking at solutions, visual journalism, because a lot of what we have studied in solutions journalism has been very word focused. And so I want to bring up the four pillars that the solutions journalism network really puts forth in what it means to be a true solutions story. Just to kind of remind y’all and also to sort of ground what we’ll be talking about. The first is that it features not just a person, but a response to a problem, how it happened. So you can’t have a solution without being able to have a well defined problem. It provides that evidence of results and looks at effectiveness. So that’s where you start getting into that critical mindset. You know, it’s not just this fluffy piece, it’s, you know, here’s what’s working but you also talk about and show what’s not working, you have to talk about those limitations, like Celia was talking about going from one community to another and realizing some of the limitations that were there, that’s part of that reporting. And that’s part of how it elevates it from just kind of this feel good journalism, because you might feel good after reading or seeing a piece but that’s not the intention. The intention is to report just as rigorously, on what people are doing as you are reporting on what the problem is. And so at the very end, of course, you want to try and provide those insights so that there’s something actionable that people can learn from instead of just thinking, Oh, isn’t this nice? So we know a lot about the effects of solutions journalism but when it comes to solutions, visual journalism, that’s still relatively new, there’s only a handful of scholars and a handful of research out there. And most of that focuses on the images and image effects. So to kind of quickly go through that, and I’ll put a link later into a bit of a summary of what we know so far. We know we started kind of with the images and Karen McIntyre, Dr. Karen McIntyre, and I have looked at a whole collection of solutions stories to see well, these are solutions, journalism stories, but what are the pictures that are accompanying them? And you’ll see on the left, you have a wonderful solution story about a housing revolution in a city in India. But the picture, that’s not a housing revolution, right, that’s the conflict. That’s the problem that this solution is dealing with. But when that’s the dominant image, you know, what’s happening to the viewer? Are we are we feeling that inspiration and that that action of what people are doing? Are we just kind of thinking more about the problem. On the right, one of my favorite solution stories with my favorite solutions, images, and you’ll see we’re actually showing what this person and what this group is trying to do to help with with pedestrian safety in Mexico City. So we studied this, we found that only about 66% of solution stories were led with images that reflected the solution, which we thought was rather low for what it shouldn’t be but it got us kind of thinking about this tension between you know, the conflict focused imagery, and if it bleeds, it leads, and what that means for solutions stories where we might have been trained as photojournalists to put that conflict up front, but what about when we’re putting the solution up front and these stories? Some other scholars extended this work? Dr. Jenn Midbury and Dr. Nicole Dauman (spelling) and went in and kind of looked at this deeper and what the additional photos might include. And they were able to connect it to some of our photojournalism general photojournalism practices that photos are comprehensive, explanatory, clarifying, ethical. And they said, solutions digital journalism should be the same.


Kyser: Moving quickly to effects that was kind of our next our next step, and that is well, okay, if we have problem focused images with solution focus stories, what is this doing to the viewer. And so we started looking at message congruency. So on the left, you’ll see we have a solutions story on recidivism, yet, we have a photo of a problem or a conflict photo, somebody getting arrested, we have a neutral photo in the middle. And on the right, we have a photo that’s congruent with the story, and that it’s showing somebody graduating from this program. And we ran this experiment, and we found as you might expect, we have kind of this picture superiority effect where the message in the visual is going to dominate whatever the message in the text is. In other words, when people read the story on the left, with the picture, you see on the left, they came away feeling more negative about the situation. So we’re able to show the images matter. And we know this, the images matter but we’re able to start to prove this a little bit more in within the context of context of solutions journalism. And then scholars have been extending this now into looking at how this plays out for specific topics. So when you have a human focused topic, like homelessness, or when you have something that’s broader, like climate change, what those those visuals do to the viewer but the big thing is, for us to understand what solutions visual journalism is and can do, we can’t just talk about the images and the image effects, we have to understand how the image was created and who made it because that’s one of the joys of photography, it’s not done by a robot, it’s done by a human being, who makes decisions and goes out and chooses where to point their camera, when to click the shutter, who to include, who to exclude, and so we don’t really understand much about the production side of it. We do know a little bit about the production of solutions journalism period. That’s another study that Dr. McIntyre and I worked on, where we interviewed journalists to ask them about their process of solutions reporting. Most of them were word based reporters but some of the findings that we got from that was that solutions reporting takes the same journalistic routine so it’s the same reporting process, you just are starting to shift your habits of thought. So when you’re conceiving the story, you’re thinking differently about who do I need to talk to? And where do I need to go to get this? Than when you’re focusing just on the problem. And then, of course, that solutions reporting is both impeded and advanced by management. Essentially, you need institutional support for this because it takes more time and it takes more resources and it’s another thing that you can’t just go out and find like spot news problems crop up, and it’s easy to identify them and go out and cover them. It’s harder and takes more time to pitch, hey, I want to go spend this time with this group of individuals and that are trying to do something about it and come back and report. So you have to have that institutional support. So when this solutions visual journalism initiative came up, I was very excited because I thought this is a great chance for us to study the process of solutions visual journalism, with these six photographers from across the world covering vastly different topics, and was incredible. And of course, David Campbell agreed, thank you again, for the access, I was able to interview all the photographer’s before and after their projects. So I was able to hear what they thought about what they might be doing. Celia was telling me about the one group that she was going to go to and then afterwards we talked about is how everything changed. And to see how their conceptualization changed, see how they thought this would go versus how it went what they had to do. It ended up being all total 16 interviews, 11 hours and 20 minutes, 190 pages of transcripts to read through, I’m still working through. I also spoke with the photojournalist during their work, to see how things were going. And of course, we’re looking at their final products to see what came of it. So I want to say this analysis is still ongoing and preliminary, but I wanted to share some of the early findings that I’ve been able to see from this. The first is that it’s congruent what we saw before with just regular solutions, reporting. It follows these traditional routines, different habits of thought and much more time upfront. You know, we know you have to consider visuals early because you have to plan where you’re going to go when you’re going to go there but finding the ideas, getting the information about these groups, you know, problems are often much easier to identify it’s easier to see that there’s conflict somewhere and we want to run out and uncover that conflict, it’s a lot harder to say, well, what are people doing about it? If you’re not familiar with an area, if you’re not familiar with this was a group, it’s harder to find that. So it takes a lot more time up front, which is what several the photographer’s indicated to me that the difficulty of even just getting to that point, that starting point, but one thing is that it does help us kind of re-shift our thinking of how we’re portraying these individuals, it’s very easy in conflict focused photography, and problem focused photography, to victimize and to stereotype, and to oversimplify somebody, but when you start shifting into what are they doing about it, just that very nature of looking at action helps us move forward into thinking of them beyond just being victims, but people have agency and control and are trying to do something about their situation. We also are able to kind of show that the solutions, visual reporting helps enhance this ability to show the problems and solutions together better than just single photos, all the previous research has been photos that accompany stories, these are first solutions visual stories. And again, like we said before, you have to really understand the problem before you can talk about the solution. Here, the photographers are able to show that they’re able to show this is what they’re up against. And this is what they’re trying to do about it and allows them to include that together. One of the big issues with solutions journalism, when we think of the imposters, the things that are pseudo solutions, but not quite is when we get into this idea of hero worship, where instead of looking at what people are doing, we become hyper focused on this one person who’s going to just save the world and solve this problem and we elevate them and in doing so we were not able to be as critical anymore, and we’re attaching it to this person instead of to what this group is doing. That’s something that can easily kind of happen in solutions, visual journalism, because you’ll get that person who’s out there building the thing, and you get him with his, his arms crossed or her with her, you know, in the hero pose standing there, and suddenly we’re more focused on them and less on what they’re doing. But what these photographers were able to do was really let the characters drive the story. So in those two examples, we saw, they’re very character driven but we weren’t necessarily hero worshipping these characters. And that’s something that Lisa Waananen-Jones has done and talked about in her teaching. She’s taught classes on solutions journalism, and had them go out and do visuals, and that was one thing she was concerned about was we’re just going to hero worship them but then she came in and said, no, we were actually able to let them drive the story. So seeing that has been really, really helpful. And then, of course, as you’ve seen already, solutions visual reporting really helps kind of elevate the stories of vulnerable, marginal, marginalized populations but it also helped a lot with access. The photographer’s were telling me that, for some of them, it was very easy, easier than they expected to get access to these populations, because there was this understood inherent respect in, I want to come document what you’re doing about this problem. Instead of, I want to come get these stereotypical images of human suffering, I want to come and see what you’re doing about it, and help elevate it and tell your story, and that really helped with access, not just to the scene, but also the information within the scene and being able to move about through there. Which again, I think is very valuable to be able to truly tell these stories of humanity in a responsible and ethical ways. Of course, we got to talk about some limitations, there still was some issues with how can we, how can we visualize these solutions? Some things don’t just, it’s not visual, right? If it’s happening in a boardroom, or in an organization, sometimes it’s not that visually appealing. And so some of the photographers were still struggling with, well, how do I really properly depict this? And then, of course, to wrap up there, there still are questions of objectivity and advocacy. Solutions journalism often gets conflated with advocacy journalism, you’re not proposing a solution, you’re not pushing a solution, you’re reporting on that solution. Yet, sometimes those lines are still being blurred and when it comes to questions of objectivity too, that often kind of comes up. It’s kind of a consideration. So I’m going to end it there. For more information. I’ll put some links in the chat after I stopped sharing to read more about it. I’m always happy to talk with anyone if you have questions. And thank you very much for your time.


David: That’s really great stuff, Kyser. Thank you. And I think it’s really important to because this is a different perspective. It’s really good to think through some of these questions about how these stories are done in that process. And I really can’t underscore enough one of Kyser’s key points that, you know, solutions visual journalism, solutions journalism, uses the established protocols of journalism and investigative journalism but it does those with a different starting point that is responding to the problem rather than just the problem, and you just.. I can’t keep banging away enough at that point to some extent really. Because usually, a lot of the concerns, which are, you know, can be well founded are precisely the other points that Kyser raised. It’s not PR, it’s not a puff piece. It’s not a straight NGO advocacy piece, the relationship between NGOs, and solution stories as a complex area and so on. In that sense, and I think this comes across in Michael’s, and Celia’s story, but Michael and Celia, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. Did you feel that your process was the same doing a story with a solutions starting point to other stories you’ve done? Did you feel that you were operating with the documentary principles that you always operate with? Or, did you feel that there was some different things going on?


Michael: Yeah, for me, the principle is still in the documentary practice. It’s more how we listen to the subject, to the people. So it’s not to find a good feeling news about a good feeling solutions. So what I try to find, when I work with the communities to listen to them, what is the problem? And what is the roots of the problem? The structure that marginalize them, and how they deal about it. And when I talk with them, they talk about many attempts to change the situation, for example, they try doing a rally in the government office, but it not works. It might be spark violence. So they change the strategy to doing the mapping the forest and it works. And, and now they have a new problem like, Okay, after we got this recognition for our forests, how can we get economic benefit? As well as how we can protect the forests, and how they they have new problem when they find the solutions? So it is like a continuing process, and when I try when I doing this report, as I tried to define two domain, the first is the path of the community, what structure that has been marginalized them, and then how they adapt now, it’s about the present time and how how the community move from, from their past and then doing the solution in the present time. It must be more complex with their structure and about the future about how they continue their traditional lifestyle or they would change. Yeah, I think what we need in doing this report arts or documentary is more listening, and to dig out the deeper structure of the root of the problem, what is the problem and how they deal or adapt or create solution to the problems.


David: Great thanks, Michael. Celia, what do you think?


Celia: I don’t think that I approached this or solutions, I think I’ve.. previous to this project I have dabbled in or I’m have often been attracted to just personal projects that are solutions driven but I mean, this is definitely the most dedicated and overtly solutions focused experience that I’d had and I don’t think I approached it any different than then other work I do and and in the world of like editorial assignments and news is often pretty negative but yeah, I think getting at something that Kyser was saying, and David, you mentioned to it, which is that you’re not, and even Michael, I mean, we’ve all touched on this like, you’re there to document and the idea is not to, or trying very hard not to project what you want to see onto this, what you have been told the solution is, or what you’ve been told is happening, you’re not trying to direct it in any particular direction. And that sometimes means showing the obstacles and, and the failures in, in striving for a solution. So it’s really not, I don’t know, it didn’t feel at all, you know, puff piece or positive spinny to me, because so much of what I felt like, my time with these women was focused on was, was hearing the, like, sort of hurdle after hurdle that they are fighting to overcome. And so while it is obviously, I mean, while you know, progress is markable, you can see these areas of regeneration in parts of ecosystems that they have siphoned off populations of previously overfished, you know, scallops are coming back. While that is clear, and obvious, the sort of, in the inundation of issues that they continue to face is very much present so it doesn’t feel like happy rainbows, rainbows and unicorns, you know, by any means. And so it really felt I don’t know, focusing on solutions felt very much like any other work that I have done in the past that might focus more on the problem, the initial problem.


David: Yeah, I think good, good points there. And I think that that was also one of the things that came up, and Kyser, you mentioned it as well, it’s like, a lot of photographers would ask me, Well, okay, you’ve got this perspective, but how do you photograph a solution? And my response was always well, a solution is not a thing. You know, it’s not a little object. It’s not a specifiable thing, a solution is a process, what you’re doing is you’re documenting that process. And I think both these stories show that extremely well being embedded in that community working through that process. And Celia in your case, or Michael’s as well, it would still be a solution story, if at the end, your community had failed completely. If they had sought out new ways of sustainability and not in any way succeeded and lost, there would still be a solution story, because it’s about the community responding to a problem. They were not successful, there’s still something to learn from that. That is a slight advocacy element about what you learn from that and what is replicable but a solution story doesn’t have to be about a solution that succeeds. It can be a community that fails as well. And that’s where it’s, you know, the critical investigative journalism. We’ve got a couple of questions in the Q&A box. And just a reminder to people in the audience if you want to ask questions, there’s still time to drop them in the Q&A box. Although Kyser, we’re we’re conscious of your time because I know you have to go off and teach a class so people don’t be surprised if you if you see Kyser disappear, he has other teaching obligations but before you go, if you want to say anything, just give me a wave and do that. So Alan has a question what appreciation is there have quoted the language of photography? That is the truthfulness or not of image creation, framing, composition, selection. Alan, if I understand you correctly, you’re talking about established protocols of photography and how they apply to solution stories and whether they’re considered in the process, if I’ve got that wrong, correct me but Celia, Michael, in doing your stories, how did you approach those things that Alan’s talking about? Truthfulness, truthfulness, of not of the image creation, the framing, composition selection. Celia, do you want to start?


Celia: Sure, I love that question, because I love thinking about this and I think about this a lot, and this sort of, I think misplaced concept of photography is like an an objective lens, right? Like because you’re just showing what exists so how could you be spending that but there’s so much power in you know, I mean, exactly what was mentioned, for framing what you are including and excluding, where you’re pointing your camera. I mean, we live in a three dimensional world and, you know, that is one 360 degree image and what you choose to hone in on is a very subjective and conscious choice. But I think I mean, I guess I would just, it’s not too dissimilar from what we were just talking about, which is that in the difference between solutions approach or a non-solutions approach, you know, focusing on problem I think, I mean, for me, personally, I cannot.. I can just say that I tried very consciously to in, you know, the physical curation of each image of, of making sure it was honest of the entire complexity of the story, which means, including obstacles and failures or moments of exhaustion or, you know, perceived defeat or frustration, and not trying to just select or hone in on like, happy moments, for lack of a better word.


David: Yeah. Michael, I’ll come to you in a second on that one but Kyser, I know your time is running down but Kent has dropped the question in for you. Can you say more about what you mean letting? What does let the character drug the story mean?


Kyser: Yeah. And it’s a great question. And I’m going to put the write up at least one and Lisa Waananen-Jones wrote from her experience that kind of got me started down this path. But you know, a lot of it is just showing the action, letting them do what they’re doing. Instead of focusing on these kind of portraits, we focus on the action, which I’m oversimplifying what she put, and I’m gonna put in the chat, her its lessons from one semester of solutions journalism photo essays, which I think, is really insightful from some of the things that she saw. But one of the things she said was fewer profile stories. So it’s less focused on a single person and more on a group and more on what they’re doing. You know, looking for the helpers, literally in that plurality. So, you know, if you have kind of a key character, focus on them, but let them take you through to these other places and show you instead of just focusing on them, my photo students probably won’t be mad that I’m late but I do have to sign off. Thank you, everyone so much. This was amazing, I encourage you to check out the other projects that the photographers did. And please check out Michael and Celia’s, they’re really, really well done. Thank you all very much.


David: See you later. Michael, so just come back to that question that that Celia answered, your thoughts on how you approach the question of the truthfulness or not of image creation, framing composition selection, Ellen says that he’s talking about the potential subjectivity of bias, cultural bias and subjectivity, I suppose, when making the images. How did you think through those issues?


Michael: Yeah, I think as a photographer, we have a subjectivity and also another way, we need to tell the objective of the truth. So for me, what I tried to do in my photographs now, it’s about how I represent in the community with fair representation. Do my pictures really, really represent the problems that they face? Do my pictures really show their solutions with fair and balance view? Like sometimes I do participative approach. It’s part of my personal approach, like it’s like a discussion between me and the subject between the photographer and the subject. A photographer wants to know what kind of truth they leave and the subject share their problems solution or their view to the photographer so it’s like a discussion. For example, like this, the plant specimen, and also the location, the GPS tagging, I made in StoryMap. So, what I do is, I ask them, what kind of medicine or plants is important for you? Show me in the forest, let’s go to the forest and you decide, what is important for you, and they show me the plan, and also show me the location, and I just record their perspective. So what I really want to do, and now I think when I work with indigenous people is fair representation, and also how I can put their narrative into the story, into the pictures, into the interactive map, or any other medium. So it’s like, it’s not like a rigid editorial perspective, like, an editor gives you an assignment and you should take this picture, you have a list of pictures, and you just take the picture based on preconception. So my approach is more, or trying to find fair representation, try to in incorporate my subject narratives, and also doing photographs with ethics. So it’s like, create a new language, not for only for me, but it’s for photographer, for the subject, and for the audience and the culture of our photographics or how society have efficient to the community to see the community with a more fair representation.


David: Great. So we’re coming up on the end of our time, but I’m going to squeeze one more question in from Sam, it was adressed to Celia, but Michael, I’m going to ask you the same, think about the same question. Sam asked, how did you find your acceptance within the communities that you worked with? Did you live in the area? How embedded were you? What was that experience like? And to kind of tap into something that Kyser said too, doing a solution story, did that ease access compared to other stories? Did that play out in your case? So how did you find the acceptance within the community? And how did a solutions perspective help or hinder access?


Celia: I’ll start, there’s sort of different answers to that, because well, yes, that is correct that I do not, I’m not from these communities are very well, I mean, being based in Mexico, it’s something that I’m hyper aware of, in every scenario I go into I live typically in Mexico City, which is very unique, and within the country in class and shared experience there. I would say, the quick answer is that I found solutions, the solutions approach to in one instance, be helpful, and in another instance, didn’t seem to make a difference. And I’ll just clarify that I started out, I had been living in Southern Baja, amongst this first community that I mentioned for a while and and it was only after spending time and I actually spent a lot of early quarantine there when things shut down, and I connected, I was pretty welcomed in by the women but as I mentioned, in talking about my project, it became clear that the women were actually not very involved at all and and so then I was sort of debating because my I really I wanted to focus on gender, I was sort of debating whether I should abandon that. To me, it felt like the main point of why I pursued this project. In that moment of trying to figure out, you know, where, what do I do? I’ve learned about and met people from these other communities, should I go and switch focus to another community, in that in between time I was spending more time with the men who it became clear, we’re still really dominating this conversation in that community. And men were pretty resistant to having me around and were kind of jaded and didn’t really well, I mean, there’s there could be a myriad of reasons for it. But, you know, to them, they were like, well, what are we, like, this thing is working here, like, what do we really have to gain from you, from letting you tag along with us? And, you know, I couldn’t, It’s a very fair question. I mean, yeah, it’s, I didn’t have a great answer. It’s like, Yeah, well, who am I, you know, it’s a very fair point, and you’re doing what you have always done, and it’s working for you. And, you know, what, like, the nuisance of having a foreigner around is just, it’s very understandable. So, what there was, I did experience some resistance, that’s all to say that from men, I did experience some resistance when I was exploring, perhaps, changing tack and, and letting go of the of the gender component. But through these, through the women that were very welcoming to me, even if not very active in the project, I found, I met other women from different parts of from the Gulf and in the community that I showed today, those three collectives, they were extremely welcoming and open, and from the get go, and, I mean, I spent a fair amount of time with them, and I also spoke out on the phone with them before going to meet, it helped that we had mutual friends. So we were connected through through friends, through a good friend of mine who had worked with them many times in the past, and, but something I found really and this is one case in which I do think the solutions approach possibly opened up this door and made a difference because something that Yanet, the most vocal who I spent the most time with, mentioned a lot was the imagery of catching fire up solutions as like a fire that can spread. And she directly attributed, like her involvement and her sort of enlightenment, she would call it for lack of a better word, you know, like six or seven years ago to seeing other women in totally different from to meeting and hearing about other women in a completely different part of Mexico on a different coast, doing similar projects, and how much that inspired her and so she kept coming back to this idea that like, you know, if anyone else sees this, and sees what we’re doing and can draw from that inspiration and motivation to to do their own thing to launch their own project to to formalize and organize and collectives or federation’s locally to where they are, then this been all of this is like worth it. And so I do think that that in that case, and the project as as it as it ended up existing, I do think the solutions, approach was was was helpful in gaining access, because they really wanted to share.


David: Yeah, and that’s the one of the final points that Kyser made in that kind of definition he began with of the solutions approach. The final point was that maybe what you are reporting on is replicable or can be repeated elsewhere and so it’s very interesting people that you were working with, had exactly that notion was the one that’s how they had learned it and they were hoping that your presence could also expand that. So I think that that’s a really interesting thing. Michael, how did you, how was your acceptance in the community and telling them that or working with them with a solutions perspective, did that change the acceptance one way or the other, for better or for worse?


Michael: They’re extremely welcoming, and yeah, I stay in there in the village and also documenting about their life. So that’s how I make a connection with them and building trust. And also, I talk also with the organization who support them, and talk about it more how to gain to find contacts, about the community, like, sometimes the community cannot see what happens in their community. Sometimes the outsider can see with the objective thing. So I tried to talk with the community and also the organization, we support them to gain holistic perspective and find more information, but the most important is about the close connection with the community and when they trust, when they trust me, and it’s like, we are friends and family. And they really helped me during this reportage. Yeah, so it’s like, yeah, it’s quite easy for me like, not so not really, more. It’s like, I tried to build trust and when I got the trust it easier for them to share their information and their life also.


Yeah, definitely. Well, we are at our time now so it’s time to wrap up.Celia and Michael, thank you very much for your time and for your presentations. The audience who are still with us, you’ve seen lots of links in the chat. So that’s lots of information to go on, check out these stories, and so on, if you want more, get in touch. Catherine asked the question now that the SBJI doesn’t run, are there other grants opportunities for photographers interested in this perspective? Not off the top of my head, though, I would like to develop something again in this area, because I think it’s something that’s important. I would say look out for opportunities from the solutions journalism network, SJN, and Kyser can help with contacts, as can I but let’s see if we can do something in the future. But again, Michael, Celia, thank you very much for your time and presentations.


Celia: Thank you so much. Thanks, everyone, for coming.

David: See you later.

Michael: See you.

Celia: Bye, Michael.

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