Photography workshops connecting youth

Relatedness is claimed as one of the intrinsic needs or motivations of humans and a key outcome of positive youth development (e.g. Deci & Ryan 2000; Silbereisen & Lerner 2007). Evoking relatedness and a sense of community has also been a goal of my current research Young People in the Limelight: Towards Agency through Multiliteracies (YPAM), which concentrates on young people living in Finland who are at risk of dropping out of schooling and society for diverse reasons, such as learning and social difficulties. The YPAM study has a connection to the TRUST project, as it is in part focused on migrant youth. YPAM is an action research based on media workshops organised around Finland by several researchers of the University of Tampere, in co-operation with youth institutions, such as youth centres. I will discuss the YPAM pilot and four workshops that focused on photography with multicultural groups. These workshops were attended by 40 mainly 15 to 20-year-old people, of whom 25 were born outside Finland (e.g. in Afghanistan, China, Congo, Iran, Mexico). 16 of them were unaccompanied asylum-seekers while others had arrived in Finland with their families in the last few years. Most of them had limited language skills and faced challenges in adjusting to the host country.

The idea behind the workshops was to encourage the youth to create self-expression based media content (e.g. photographs) and to publish it in online and offline forums (e.g. Instagram, youth magazine, art exhibition). The aim of the researchers was to observe the challenges of young people’s social and media participation and to experiment ways to support them in participation. Photography as a popular youth medium proved a suitable tool of self-expression especially for the multicultural youth.

To begin with, photography is a kind of low-threshold medium, as these days everyone is able to take pictures and create something nice-looking even without knowing any camera technique. Being based on a single frame, photography allows quickly accomplished mini-tasks and does not require long tutoring or a lot of verbal co-operation compared to editing a film, for instance. Easy and fast success may in turn invite quick positive feedback and admiration from peers and adults. In the YPAM study, such experiences of competence, which were rare for the young participants, were discovered to be important in building their self-confidence, and in addition, their willingness and courage to relate to peers.

Photography as a visual medium allowed the youth to communicate with others even with limited verbal skills, since it is literally possible to point out many things in or through photographs. Photography also offered an alternative way of expressing oneself for those less verbally oriented or with limited language skills. Despite this opportunity for visual communication, the young people often did not understand each other, and yet, seemed content in being able to reach out to others at least in some limited ways – this in turn formed a basis for the growth of relatedness and community spirit.

Many young people felt very insecure about communicating with others, as young people often do, but also because of their different cultural backgrounds and other difficulties, such as language skills or being traumatised. However, especially photography excursions outdoors with peers and youth workers appeared to help in experiencing relatedness without pressure. During the excursions, each individual was carrying out a photography task independently. Yet, it was also possible to feel a sense of belonging to a group as the young people were walking around in one big group. On the one hand, as everyone had a camera, it was natural to stand alone in front of some intriguing object – for a reason of photographing or just because one wished to be alone. On the other hand, the loose, informal group allowed them to easily relate to others if they felt like it. In other words, the photography excursions, and other independently performed media tasks, enabled the youth alternatively to be alone or to relate to others in a manner they could cope with at the particular moment of their lives. The excursions outside the youth centre and their own homes were also meaningful in the sense, that they made it possible for the young people to observe near neighbourhood with a tranquil yet focused manner within the ‘security’ of the group. This opportunity to get to know the neighbourhood in detail seemed to make them more relaxed in them and might even facilitate the young migrants to acculturate to their new environment.

To sum up, photography as a medium contains diverse ways to support the creation of relatedness and a sense of community among multicultural groups, as it is an ‘easy’ visual medium enabling youth to experience competence and to relate to others even in challenging conditions. Based on YPAM, it is not only important that the migrant youth’s basic needs (e.g. appropriate housing) are fulfilled; the experience of relatedness is also crucial for their wellbeing.



Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2000) ‘The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior’. Psychological Inquiry, 11:4, 227-268.

Silbereisen, R. & Lerner, R. (2007) ‘Approaches to Positive Youth Development: A View of the Issues’. In: Silbereisen, R. & Lerner, R. (eds.) Approaches to Positive Youth Development, 4-30. London: SAGE.

Photo: Imppu-h88

Having, loving and being: Wellbeing of migrant youth

Social marginalisation is an alarming aspect of the increasing migrant youth population in Europe. Even if these young people learn the local language, gain a basic education and find employment, they may not feel well enough to truly participate in their host society. A challenge even in one dimension of wellbeing can increase the risk of social marginalisation. According to the sociologist Erik Allardt (1976), ‘having’, ‘loving’ and ‘being’ are the key components of human wellbeing.

For wellbeing, one needs to have for example appropriate housing, sufficient income and satisfactory health (‘having’). One also needs loving relationships and a feeling of belonging to a community (‘loving’). Furthermore, one should be able to influence one’s life and to make a difference in relationships or the surrounding community (‘being’). In practice, these dimensions are intertwined. For example, appropriate housing is closely related to having a community to belong to. (Allardt 1976.)

My research interest lies in the category of ‘being’ and its aspect of ‘self-actualisation’, which is rarely discussed. By self-actualisation, Allardt (1976) refers to the fact that each individual longs for the subjective experiences of being treated as a unique person, getting respect from others and fulfilling oneself for instance through hobbies and spare-time activities. He also claims that one should to have an opportunity to participate politically. In other words, self-actualisation is about the possibility to express one’s individual characteristics, creative abilities and personal opinions through a variety of actions.

In my current research project, Young People in the Limelight (YPAM), I study how the wellbeing and social inclusion of vulnerable young people, such as migrant youth, can be supported by artistic media production in youth work. This has a link to the TRUST project, which also explores innovative and caring ways to enhance the wellbeing of migrant youth, particularly unaccompanied minors. The YPAM art and media workshops were implemented by several researchers acting in diverse youth institutions, such as non-governmental organisations, municipal youth centres and a refugee centre for unaccompanied asylum-seeking boys. The participants were mainly 15 to 20-year-old young people (altogether close to 100 people). In the workshops, the youth were encouraged to create art and media content, such as journalistic writings, poetry, photographs, and videos. Most of the creative tasks had loose frames and plenty of possibilities for self-actualisation (e.g. create a meme, write a fairy tale, photograph something people do not usually see). Some tasks were done individually and others with peers. The youth were also given a chance to publish their artwork and media content in social media (e.g. Instagram) and in mainstream media or public spaces (e.g. in a youth magazine, an exhibition).

Based on the results of YPAM, the wellbeing of vulnerable youth was enhanced through producing art and media together with peers and publishing it. The young people needed to feel competent for instance through mastering a technique or creating a unique work of art (e.g. photograph, video, novel). Many of them also felt contentment when being able to have a say about social problems or even global issues (e.g. racism, poverty, wars, climate change). In addition, the creation of media content gave them a chance to explore their strengths and weaknesses. Getting positive feedback from peers and adults they trusted was important in creating or strengthening their experience of competence. Through showing their competence, they had a chance to gain respect from others as individuals. Publishing the creative work in art exhibitions, magazines and social media turned out to be particularly important, as the youth interpreted the act of publishing as a sign of adults’ appreciation and their own competence. The experience of competence, in turn, seemed to build their self-confidence, create an anticipation of pleasant things to come, and increase their willingness to work with others and take part in future projects.


Allardt, E. (1976) Hyvinvoinnin ulottuvuuksia. [Dimensions of Wellbeing]. Porvoo: WSOY.


Creative writing workshop in Vantaa