Two weeks ago, I had my first physical experience in public engagement, and it was amazing! Me and my colleague Leticia Fernandez-Fontecha transformed our research into a practical activity through which we could talk about our issues to people that had nothing to do with the academia. And it was so funny! we were laughing all the time.
This was during the workshop “Fotografía y fisicalidad” (Photography and physicality) organised within the frame of the Metabody Forum 4 and in collaboration with La Casa Encendida in Madrid the last 9th of July. We prepared a workshop of 4 hours, where the first two were dedicated to the history of expressions and the second part to the history of childhood. We didn’t want to lecture anyone, so we organised practical activities so they could reflect on these issues by means of their use of the body. Our aim was to make them embody different expressions so they could have a sort of experience of their changing history.
With this aim in mind, I brought my own collection of cameras from the beginning of the 20th century (a beautiful kodak box and another amazing kodak folder from the twenties), mid century and digital ones, and Leticia built a camera oscura similar to those of the 19th century. We also covered the walls of the room with pictures of actors from the mid 19th century to the present.
The idea was to match cameras and poses, and see how the technicalities of the different cameras (like the exposure time or the absence of flash) determined the way in which we could approach the subject, as well as the result we could get. They should also pose like the movie stars, imitating their gestures and expressions. While they were posing, I tried to approach them to explain some of the characteristics of the cameras, or just pose with them (I also posed and I must recognise: pin up poses are SO PAINFUL! don’t try at home).
After this session, Leticia brought up the discussion about the representation of childhood, and how photography consolidated and challenged the romantic idea of the innocent child. She illustrated her marvelous talk with pictures from the great masters such as Lewis Carroll and Sally Mann, but the most interesting part was when she discussed her own family pictures according to what she had exposed. Then, she asked the participants of the workshop to show their own pictures when they were children, so we could all discuss them. That discussion was incredible. Really. Some even qualified it as “therapeutic”!
One of the things that struck me the most was the unexpected of the results. My intention was to generate discussion about the history of emotions and their embodiment, but clearly the thing that got them were the cameras. I saw it clearly in the discussion about family photographs, where the technical issues that we had been seeing in the first session appeared once and again. This generated me an ambiguous feeling: on the one hand, I was happy that they had enjoyed and had learned something, but on the other had I felt a bit frustrated because that was not my aim. I wanted to talk about emotions. But, as days passed, the good feeling has prevailed. At the end, that’s the point of education: not to create replicas, but to generate curiosity. The protagonist are the students, not the teacher. So, whatever my intention was, the fact is that they all had fun and got some skills, even is these skills were not the intended ones. And that’s great.
Well, I’m very, very happy with my first experience with off-line people. I’m looking forward to repeat it!!!