London Multimedia Storytelling Project Enables Migrants to Share their Experiences

A multimedia storytelling project, My Journey: Stories of London Migrants, runs until October 10th at Shoreditch Town hall in London. It provides migrants with a unique opportunity to share their experiences through photography, film, audio and comic strips, giving this much-talked about demographic a human face.

We asked the Magician behind the exhibition Emily Churchill Zaraa, Communication Officer for Migrant Resources Centre to tell us more. Following on the spirit of the exhibition, Emily answered by offering us to read the journey and experience of Camille Stengel, a photography volunteer and migrant at @MigrantsMRC to present the development of the exhibition over the summer.

We could have not dreamt better introduction to the My Journey 🙂

(c) Roksolana Gladii 2
Roksalana says: There is a double struggle if you are migrant. A lack of friends is a reality of my life. Again, it is a language barrier.

June in London can be hit or miss, weather wise. If luck is on our side the days are full of glorious sunshine, but the threat of a torrential downpour is ever imminent. It’s best to adapt to the weather with a variety of activities so that London can be enjoyed whatever the weather brings.

My Saturdays in June this past summer were spent embracing the varied weather with a group of enthusiastic people, creating images for a participatory multimedia project about migrants’ journeys in London. According to the Migration Observatory, as of 2012 40 per cent of Inner London’s population consisted of foreign-born people. These migrants all have a story to tell about their experiences in London, but rarely is a space made where these stories can be shared in a public setting. The Migrants Resource Centre, with the aid of funding by the City Bridge Trust, developed a truly innovative multimedia project about migrants’ experiences as Londoners.

The aptly titled My Journey project, run primarily by project coordinator Emily Churchill Zaraa and workshop leader Bill Clibery, consisted of a range of multimedia workshops where migrants could tell their stories through photography, film, audio clips and comic strips. I joined as a volunteer facilitator to help participants create various ‘photo stories’ in response to the question: What does being a Londoner mean to you? Relevant to anyone who calls London their home, the question brought forth a diverse range of answers through the medium of analogue cameras. 

The photo story workshop consisted of four sessions where participants were transformed into photographers through a series of brainstorming activities, photo-based exercises, and skill-focused presentations. The workshops allowed the photographers to establish their image-capturing techniques with analogue cameras while also developing the nuances of their story as a Londoner.

During the first session everyone collaboratively created a list of words used to describe migrants. Some came up with words often seen in the press – ‘thieves’, ‘poor’ – while others conveyed more diverse (and realistic) words – ‘clever’, ‘hopeful’. The same exercise was then repeated to describe London, which ranged from ‘lonely’ and ‘isolating’ to ‘busy’ and ‘full of possibility’. These descriptors helped to stimulate everyone’s ideas about their own photo story, and photographers created a ‘brief’ to help organise their story ideas for the following week.

(c) Roksolana Gladii
Camille (left) poses with Roksalana in a photo Roksalana composed to show her determination to reach the level of younger students

The second session was dedicated to creating images for the photo story. I teamed up with photographer Roskolana, and together with Bill and another volunteer we roamed the campuses of London to capture images for her story. During our trek I was able to spend some quality time with Roskolana and learn about her experiences since coming to London. We have in common both currently being students, and we discussed the struggles of higher education. Roskolana’s determined demeanour and kind disposition made the day’s activities even more enjoyable.

The third session, ironically on one of the hottest days of the year, was spent inside in the Double Negative Darkroom. This session was especially exciting as participants received some ‘hands-on’ experience transforming their images into works of art. My day was primarily spent with Roskolana and Anna, another photographer, and was split into a morning in the darkroom developing images the photographers had taken the week before, and an afternoon of wet plate collodion portrait making. This was the first time all three of us had ever been in a darkroom, which resulted in many spurts of nervous laughter splicing through focused concentration as we tried to wrap our heads around these various techniques. The three of us gasped in union as the images appeared before our eyes after being treated with the special photo-specific ‘wash’ chemicals. We finished the day talking about how fascinating it was to learn the various photo developing approaches and how much fun it was to utilise these techniques in the frame of the My Journey project.

The workshops were a unique space to learn, play and develop photography and storyboard skills for both the photographers and the facilitators. As a volunteer facilitator, I found the most poignant aspect of the project to be the connections made between everyone involved. Everyone involved in the project had a wide range of skills and experiences to offer, and this made for a dynamic and creative exchange of ideas and resources throughout the four weeks.

Our final session involved composing the photo stories of each participant and presenting them at the end of the day. The assorted narratives and powerful images made for a memorable afternoon, where beaming photographers shared their photo stories with an enthralled audience of fellow photographers and facilitators. The day finished with a feeling of satisfaction in the air, and I left excited and energised for the exhibition to come.

The sun will shine inside the Shoreditch Town Hall during the My Journey multimedia workshop, illuminating the photos, films, audio stories and comic strips of some of the radiant migrants that make up this vibrant city. I look forward to soaking up the rays.

Blog author Camille Stengel is a migrant and an Erasmus Mundus doctoral fellow. 

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My Journey: Stories of London Migrants exhibition details:

Free entrance. 10am-8pm. Until Friday 10th October 2014

The Mayor’s Parlour, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT

See the stories: www.my-journey.org.uk

Follow the conversation on Twitter @MigrantsMRC and #myjourney

My Journey: Stories of London Migrants exhibition is organised by Migrant Resources Centre working alongside sister organisations in promoting a positive image of migrants towards the upcoming elections, part of the recently launched #MigrantsContribute Campaign. Follow @MigrantContribu for more info.

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