Interview #394: Jessica Bishopp on her photo book “See What I See”
See What I See is a collection of personal photographic insights into African life through the eyes of 18 Gambian students. The photographs are intimate and candid, bringing a new perspective to images of Africa from the inside.
Lee Chang Ming: How did the idea for the book “See What I See” come about? What was the working process like?
Jessica Bishopp: The project came about due to amalgamation of things over a period of 5 years, the definitive starting point was due to the seizing of an opportunity. I’ve been going to The Gambia every November for 5 years on a charity expedition, donating aid. In 2012 (when the photographic workshops took place) I wanted to do something different, other than give aid, I wanted to inspire and empower the young Gambians who I met, whilst sharing the Gambian culture with a wider audience. It was important to me to learn more about the young Gambians who I had met, and share my own skills with them. Photography seemed the best medium, everyone can relate to it and potentially have easy access to it, it doesn’t discriminate or exclude easily.
The working process was full of surprises, dedication and fun, I learnt a lot through my first attempt at self-publishing. None of the people who worked on the project lived in the same country at the time of the conception and creation; the project and photographs are truly global and cross-cultural, which was a surreal but exciting prospect. I collaborated with designer and friend Silvia Weber who is based in Vienna for the book design, a lot of the initial organisation for the workshops in The Gambia was concocted through Facebook messaging between my Gambian friends and I, and the film editing and sound design were done through Skype conversations.
With the title “See What I See”, it seemed liked you wanted provide an insider’s perspective of everyday Gambian life. Do you feel photography as a medium can be empowering?
Definitely, I believe that the visual can highlight issues and share perspectives with a wider audience in cases where text/words might have failed. Photography can be empowering and potent, but there are a lot of debates surrounding participatory projects and the ethics involved. I did my research beforehand with great advice from the charity PhotoVoice, and I am lucky as I know communities in The Gambia and have good friends there and so I already knew a lot about the community I was involving in the project. I hope that these photographs can show people that The Gambia has a lot of beauty and inspirational talented people.
A lot of photography is about perspective and how we look at things, did you feel that the 18 Gambian students involved in the project each had a distinct style or insight that you otherwise would not have had?
I believe that students most definitely each have their own distinctive visual/photographic style. I gave the students an open brief and they each interpreted and documented it in a different way. There were a couple of students who I knew wanted to be graphic designers, journalists and artists, and it showed in their photographs; Lamin Manga who wanted to be a graphic designer carefully composed all of his photographs and played with the shapes/angles in the images. Abdolie Ceesay wanted to be a journalist and as a result the majority of his photographs portrayed actions, making a conscious effort to show and document his culture.
Upcoming projects or ideas?
I’m working with a local community in South London at the moment, creating a project around their memories of the area and how it has dramatically changed in the last 10 years due to gentrification. I think that spaces and communities have collective memory, and that is what I am capturing at the moment. I have been living in South London for the last 4 years and I am discovering so much rich history that I had no idea about, the Second World War obliterated so much of the area, and the changing faces and perceptions of the council estates is surprising. I am trying to create a project that shares stories between generations, encourages people to get involved with their local community and allows people to view the area in which they live in a different light.
The immediate future for See What I See involves distributing the book and sharing the photographs with as many interested people as possible, and getting as many responses to the photographs to relay back to the Gambian students who took part. The future involves organising an exhibition of the photographs in The Gambia this November, I have tried to get the British High Commission involved, but I am still looking for a suitable exhibition space in The Gambia, if anyone has any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated! I hope that See What I See will continue to interest and inspire people for years to come.
Any final thoughts?
You can show your support for the photographs and the project by visiting the website, liking the Facebook page and following the project on Twitter. If you want to get more involved then you can show your support by purchasing a copy of the photobook, See What I See. It is £20.00 (excluding postage) and all the profits raised go to Gambian charities. You can also order a copy online email: email@example.com
See What I See is stocked in several London bookshops including:
Claire de Rouen
Foyles, Charing Cross
South London Gallery
The Photographers Gallery, London
Ti Pi Tin