Photography as a tool for empowerment

Photography as a tool for empowerment
A photograph taken by Soe Soe, a foreign domestic worker.
Published: 9:47 AM, November 10, 2014
Updated: 12:44 AM, November 11, 2014

Each Sunday evening, a group of women working in Singapore as maids meet at the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics office in Orchard Towers to catch up with one another through photographs and videos they have taken throughout the week.

During these two-hour sessions facilitated by photojournalist Julio Etchart, they learn basic documentary making and picture editing, and are asked to write captions for photos taken by their colleagues. Mr Etchart said the initiative employs “photovoice” — a participatory image-making technique often used among minority groups — and gives the maids a much-needed opportunity to tell their stories.

“This has been an effective way of helping us understand not only the deeper issues some of these workers face, but also their lives outside work. It also empowers them with a new voice and new skills,” said Mr Etchart.

He said religion seems to be a popular inspiration as many shots depict motifs, such as crosses, and workers spending their days off at churches and temples.

Mr Etchart also observed many images of children, which he suggested might reflect workers’ longing to be with their family.

Photographs are taken with the workers’ smartphones or with cameras loaned from the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation.

About six to eight workers gather at the office each week. One of them is 41-year-old Sue (not her real name), who enjoys snapping photos of gatherings with fellow workers from Myanmar. Photo-taking, she said, helps her “share (her) real feelings with others”.

“I have learnt so much from this group,” said Sue, who has been attending the sessions for about five months. KELLY NG