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