domingo, 12 de abril de 2015

A view of the spaces which adolescent readers inhabit through their “photo-narratives”

As we mentioned before in a blog entry (12 November 2014), we read and commented on the picturebook The Girl in Red by Aaron Frisch and Roberto Innocenti with the young people in this project. Before giving them the book, we had asked what version of the traditional tale they remembered, given that the results of the reading survey revealed that, after “The Three Pigs”, this was the story most students remembered from “when they were little”. Most of the participants also referred to films based on the story: Caperucita Roja (1960 – a Mexican production); Hoodwinked! (2005) and Red Riding Hood (2011). Between them, they tried to reconstruct the events in the story, arguing about which was the “real” ending – does the wolf eat the grandmother and the little girl? Does the hunter get the granny out of the wolf’s belly?  Does the wolf die in the end?

Given that one of our objectives was to consider the differences between the urban and rural secondary schools in terms of reading, we adopted a methodology that would perhaps allow us to obtain a perspective not only about the construction of meaning and the creation of an individual story but also about the way in which the geographical and social contexts influence this construction. Research has shown that there is a significant relationship between the spaces that adolescents inhabit and their identities, which to a great extent determines their way of perceiving and giving form to the world that surrounds them and their way of acting within it (see, Charlton et al).

One of the methods that has been used successfully to obtain information about identity and locality is photography. Faulstich Orellana (1999), for example, investigated children’s experience of their communities, using the children’s photographs to “see” these communities “through their eyes” (see also Arizpe and McAdam 2011 and Arizpe et al 2014).

In this case, the activity consisted in recreating, with photographs, the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” in the place where they lived, that is, to imagine her route through their city, neighbourhood or town. What interested us was the way in which they might reconstruct the story in their communities; what characters she might meet; the role that words and images might have; the ending they would choose and what all of this could tell us about the exterior and interior, real and imaginary spaces they inhabit.

We gave out disposable cameras (we had to explain how to use them given that the majority had never taken photographs that were not digital). We asked them to reflect before taking the photographs and warned them not to take pictures without permission unless they were of a public space where it would be hard to identify individuals.

It must be noted that this was a voluntary activity and that not all the students in the project took the photos or completed the activity. However, the eight who did participate, did so with enormous enthusiasm (so much so that those who did not do the activity afterwards were sorry they had not done so!).

After giving them the prints, we asked them to look at them privately first, in case they wanted to remove any before sharing. We also gave them glue, scissors and cardboard and told them they could design their story any way they wanted, including text and/or drawings.

The creativity and ingenuity in the resulting “photo-narratives” surprised us. There is no space here to describe all of them but, as we say in Spanish, “para muestra, un botón” (literally, “for a sample, you only need one button”):

Like some of his companions, Jorge was a bit disappointed that his photographs did come out as expected; in fact, only two could be developed and they were quite dark. After looking at them and reflecting, however, those two were enough for him to create, as he himself describes it, “a fascinating story”:

This story may be short but [it’s] fascinating, in the city of [name] the city is calm, the people are calm. Hector crosses it, fearful of the cars that go by so fast, the people calm him down, even though there are few people, he is still calm, the city is beautiful, the windows reflect a celestial blue, Hector would like to know that city better, he is interested in speaking to the people but he has to go home. Darkness is filling the city, the people are on their way to their house after work, the lights go on and Hector heads home after crossing the streets, the cars are a latent danger. Hector heads home. His family is waiting for him.

It’s not much like “Little Red Riding Hood”: the protagonist is a boy, the text is very brief and nothing really happens, it is the description of what a young man thinks and feels as he heads home in the evening on an ordinary day in his city.

However, by means of the images and the words, Jorge manages to recreate a suggestive instant, a moment in time and space charged with implicit emotions. On one hand, the character is anxious about the potential dangers of a busy city but on the other, these anxieties dissipate before his appreciation of the beauty he finds even in this context. We also note the tension between the incipient curiosity of the young man about his city and its inhabitants and his sense of responsibility which makes him return home before it gets completely dark.  Jorge describes colours, light and darkness with an aesthetic sensibility and tells us that Hector observes it all “calmly”. He suggests that the calm comes from the people around him but also from the certainty that he is heading towards a home where his family awaits him. In this brief story, Jorge manages to communicate the tensions between the attraction and potential threat of  spaces as yet unknown and the security and calm offered by what is familiar.

Each of the photo-narratives is unique and uses the story of Red Riding Hood differently. Some mix fantasy with reality, some include humour and others contain sinister undercurrents but like Jorge’s, each one intertwines, in some form, the spaces, whether urban or rural, that their creators inhabit and experience. They tell us about the landscape through which they move but also about the human connections that make up their community. They allow us to glimpse the young person’s experiences through their eyes.

As Marcel Proust wrote in a reflection about what art allows us to see:

The only true voyage of discovery […] would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is […]
The Prisoner, 1923

Arizpe, E., Colomer, T. and Martínez-Roldán, C., with Bagelman, C., Bellorín, B., Farrell, M., Fittipaldi, M., Grilli, G., Manresa, M.,  Margallo, A.M., McAdam, J., Real, N. and Terrusi, M. (2014). Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An international inquiry with immigrant children and The Arrival.  Bloomsbury Academic.
Arizpe, E. and McAdam, J. (2011) Crossing Visual Borders and Connecting Cultures: Children’s responses to the photographic theme in David Wiesner’s Flotsam, New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship 17 (2).
Charlton, Emma, Cliff Hodges, Gabrielle, Pointon, Pam, Nikolajeva, Maria, Spring, Erin, Taylor, Liz, and Wyse, Dominic (2012). “My place: exploring children’s place-related identities through reading and writing”. Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education 1-17.
Faulstich Orellana, Marjorie. (1999). “Space and Place in an Urban Landscape: Learning from Children’s Views of Their Social Worlds.” Visual Sociology, 14, 73-89.