Big Picture: ‘You are here’

Photo and artwork by Cigdem Esin, from a project led by Esin, Corinne Squire, and Chila Burman. Download PDF for poster.

Can images provide us with different understandings of lives than the verbal stories we tell? In 2010 Corinne Squire, Cigdem Esin and Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence Chila Burman, at the Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London, investigated this question. Using a variety of materials, Burman helped participants make life-sized ‘visual autobiographies’. Squire and Esin interviewed them about the process, and Burman curated an exhibition of their work at a local gallery. Throughout, field notes were made, to create ‘activity narratives’ of participants’ involvement.

Participants’ images demonstrated many resources that did not appear in the interviews: for instance, children’s international connections, and migrants’ knowledge of visual traditions from their regions of origin. In addition, participants’ stories seemed only partly determined by socio-economic status. Students’ stories showed a wide range of cultural involvement, and children shared many visual cultural references across socio-economic status.

The research process also allowed for change. One young man followed his postcode-dominated visual autobiography with an interview story of moving away and educating himself. And an older woman used the entire research process to redefine herself as an ‘artist’.

Project members are continuing with this method of work, in particular, investigating young women’s visual identity constructions (Esin), and resource mapping (Squire).

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