Photography as a Social Practice

“Many of the most complex and exciting elements of contemporary photographic practices are invisible to audiences. They consist of relationships, compassion, patience, and listening. They consist of really challenging oneself, as the artist, to give up conventions within the art-making process that subtly reinforce oppressive social dynamics.” – Eliza Gregory

This website was founded by Eliza Gregory, Mark Strandquist and Gemma-Rose Turnbull (who is acting as the current editor). It serves as an archive of research and conversations around photography as a social practice. We tag projects, articles, books and other media that relate to the conversations and issues that surround this kind of work. We conduct interviews with practitioners, and we write about our own experiences navigating contemporary photography with an eye to ethics, representation, power dynamics and social justice.

Find the website here


Categorized as Writer


Photography and Narrative
Coventry University

Many of the assignments are similarly whimsical, but despite their seeming playfulness, they are a fundamental attempt to re-address the way we see photographs. A common theme among the contributions is the idea that before you can get creative, you need to be destructive, which suggests established approaches have gotten tired. – Colin Pantall

phonar, an abbreviation of PHOtography and NARrative, is an ongoing undergraduate photography project, run out of the Coventry University Photography department. It is a core course component of the Photography degree program, and students share assignments on social media as they complete them, while working towards the creation of a cross-cohort publication.

#phonar2016/7 is partially based on participant response to The Photographer’s Playbook; 307 Assignments and Ideas, edited by Gregory Halpern and Jason Fulford (2014). This course will use this resource to construct tasks that facilitate both an investigation into photography and narrative, and also into the development of a broad spectrum of photographers’ narratives. It will also be formed around intensive workshops that address stages of photographic narrative structure: finding, making and sharing.

The images here were made by students in the 2016 iteration of the module. See more at phonar.mediaTwitter, and Instagram.

Categorized as Teacher

King School Fifth Grade in Conversation with Iconic Portlanders

Ocean Zedaker with Stacey Hallal
Brett Panichello with Aria Leighty
Ja’Shanique Broussard with Yolanda Coleman
Leonardo Sanchez with Mike Murawski
Hanan Jabr with Illmaculate
Justin Bradley with Kate Bingaman-Burt
Jose Ambrosio Pulido with Ellie Boon
Celesté Hernandez Gudiño with Lucy Lee Yim
Coco-Chanel Quaye with Carson Ellis
Charlecia Jenkins with Jessica Wiseley Kruger
Semaj Baldwin-Fontenot with Steve Gaynor
Timon Davis with Nigel Burton
Jasiah Black with Tara Stephens

Made with  Molly Sherman

A publishing project in partnership with King PK-8 School in Northeast Portland. King School students interviewed a series of iconic Portlander’s on topics of interest. They made a collaborative publication, which was available for sale at the King School Press booth at the Portland Art Museum. The project was made as part of Shine A Light 2014.




Residency at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art
Made with Eliza Gregory
Participation from Jeffrey Wright and Paul Ramirez Jonas

Marginalia was a project created for a residency at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art in collaboration with Eliza Gregory (and participation from Jeffrey Wright and Paul Ramirez Jonas). Done in May 2013, this project activated PICA’s reference library by creating a series of postcards made from images taken in/of the books in their collection. Each postcard has an image taken in a book from a different category in the library. The back of each postcard describes the section, gives a bibliography of the book in which we took the picture, and directs the holder of the postcard to the library itself.

In the place we took each picture, we left a question. Questions were chosen from Paul Ramirez Jonas’ list of 100 questions about social practice art. Paul has made his questions into a book that he has given to the library at our request. We also gave a copy of Billy Collins’ poem “Marginalia” to the library.


Photo-based collaboration
With Sharita Towne, Betty Marín and Eliza Gregory
Assisted by Kaila Farrell-Smith and Anastasia McAllister


A portfolio of projects about family stories and how they shape individual identity and community health. The suite of projects was comprised of:

– A family photo day, where residents of Portland could drop in to Field Work for a free family (or individual) portrait, printed immediately.

– A series of workshops conducted with high school art students at Trillium charter school in Northeast Portland. Workshops asked students to consider how their families pass down stories, and to share stories, ideas, images and artifacts with each other. Students also looked at artists’ work about family themes, and were asked to conduct interviews with their own families. Images of students and from students’ families were featured in a window display at Field Work in downtown Portland.

– A conversation-based work at the Portland Art Museum at Shine a Light 2013. The artists conducted conversations about “How your family shares stories,” and “How those stories shape who you are,” followed by an invitation for participants to make a photograph of themself (and others) in a photobooth. Participants received a small booklet containing stories and images from the artists’ families, and a short essay by the Portland Art Museum’s Native American Art curator, Deana Dartt-Newton.

My Norma, Your Norma

Photo-based collaboration
Started with Emily Fitzgerald

Everyone is invited to complete the “Getting to Know Your Norma” prompts. See them at

My Norma, Your Norma is a participatory photography project instigated by Emily Fitzgerald and Gemma-Rose Turnbull. We are friends, and photographic collaborators, who were discussing our experiences of making long-term visual stories of (and with) our grandmothers, when we discovered both women were named Norma. Our two-person exchange, talking about how we were grappling with the physical and mental decline and impending loss of these women that we love, and sharing the ways we were photographing them, has expanded to invite anyone to make visual stories with a special older person through the process of completing the “Getting to Know Your Norma” prompts.

The focus of the project is on exploring an intergenerational relationship, so there are really no limitations of who you choose to be your person––it could even be a special younger person, or a person who is no longer alive. We envision that in completing the prompts you will be able to create a really special and unique photo-based record of you and your special person.

The prompts will be released regularly throughout 2015. This project is open to everyone, and you are free to choose to complete as many or as few as you want to.

Paper Thin (Elder Abuse)

Collaboration with people who have experienced elder abuse
Partnership with Caxton Legal Centre

When I tell people what I am photographing they look at me askance. “Elder abuse? What’s that?” The very few who don’t question the term whisper their own tremulous tale. From this I glean that unless someone you know, be it through family or work, has had his or her vulnerability taken advantage of, then you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

So I find a generic explanation, one I rattle off to everyone, quickly offloading it, without breath or pause: “Elder abuse is any act within a relationship of trust which results in harm to an older person. The most common forms of elder abuse include physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse and neglect.” It does the job but it’s not the whole story.

That’s what I find in the lounge rooms and kitchens I meet people in. Rooms that are, without exception, covered in the collections of long lives; photos, trinkets, albums, newspaper clippings, the bits-and-bobs that add up to the sum of their years. I sit, and I drink tea (endless cups of it) and we talk. Finally I find out what ‘elder abuse’ really means.

Most of the stories leave me gawping in shock, unable to correlate my environment with the words spilling from the person sat in front of me. And I’m not someone who hasn’t come across the horrors that people inflict on each other before. I’ve walked sad paths with very vulnerable people, but this…

Famille Inconnue

A Fictional Family History
Produced by Rahima Hayes
First installed at the Gin Gin Regional Art Gallery
October 2013

I once came across a pile of family albums in a bin when I was visiting my mother in Switzerland. A surprising contrast to the sour smelling bags—a pile of hand bound books, dusty and yellowed. I gasped in horror and ran to get Mum to help me—desperate to retrieve them before the garbage collectors.

I sat for days pouring over this treasure, which travelled the paths of family life and photography—from fat cheeked babies in old fashioned perambulators rendered still and sweet in cracked black and white, to the long-legged summer holiday colours taking the growing clan into the 1970’s.

I knew I couldn’t bring all of the albums home to Australia, the stack of them reached close to my waist, so, reluctant to relegate them to the trash I carefully picked the images out of their bindings for safekeeping.

For years I wondered why I was so concerned that this documentation of a warm and full family life had been discarded? Why had I sat, head bent, prying the images loose until my shoulders got sore? What was it about these people, none of whom I knew, from a country that wasn’t my home, which compelled me?


It came to me much later—it was just an extension for my knack for adopting the unwanted. My Dad calls my predilection for acquiring people, ‘bringing home waifs and strays’—it’s become a family joke, but really it’s a family trait; he introduces my friend Tess to people as his ‘adopted daughter’. She has her own family but over the years we’ve claimed her as one of us. And she’s far from being the only one.

So this small collection of found photos were carried 17,000 kilometers, and homed with the dusty old Kodak packets of my own family photos—my sisters and I as fat cheeked babes, our parents toothily grinning as they toted us, frozen in 80’s fashion that we laughed at later. And the longer they sat the more they weighed on me—the terrible sadness of their abandonment. This family unknown, homed but dislocated from their real stories, their real family.

So I’ve decided they need a story, Famille Inconnue, and that I am going to ask us all to craft one together. From the colour we think their eyes might have been, to the ways they fell in love, to their favourite foods and the moments, happy, sad, exciting and monotonous, that have shaped their lives. It will be imagined, sure, but I feel like it will breathe live into them, that they will no longer be the unknown family gathering dust in my bottom drawer.

—Gemma-Rose Turnbull

Red Light Dark Room

Partnership with St Kilda Gatehouse
Participatory project
Self published book

In early 2010 Gemma-Rose was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts grant to partner with non-profit organisation St Kilda Gatehouse to photograph and interview street sex workers, while teaching these women how to tell their stories visually. Participatory methodologies were employed to allow a more comprehensive picture to emerge, and to challenge the concept of who actually makes an image; who is the photographer and who the subject.

Red Light Dark Room; Sex, lives & stereotypes is an amalgamation of photographs, interviews, and written reflections, and was published in April 2011. All book proceeds go to St Kilda Gatehouse, which provides a safe community space, emergency aid and strong advocacy for street based sex workers.

Please contact St Kilda Gatehouse to buy the book

Categorized as Books