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“Our Collective voice” photographic exhibition debuts at London Metropolitan University

The LamQ+ project challenges traditional research approaches by giving voice to the LGBTQI+ community and captures in pictures stories of marginalised groups during lockdown

By Carolina Piras

The Our Collective Voice photographic exhibition debuted recently at London Metropolitan University’s Atrium Gallery at Aldgate Campus. The exhibition, part of a wider research project named “LamQ+ Project: Understanding Lambeth’s LGBTQI+ communities in times of Coronavirus: A mixed-methods study”, combined three different research approaches: a survey, Photovoice workshops and a focus group.

“Identity” Picture Credit: Alex Cimpeanu

The LamQ+ project was conducted between January and July 2021, funded by the Transformation Fund, and developed in partnership with Lambeth Council as well as different local charities, including Black Thrive, Black Out, Lambeth Links and Opening Doors London.

Dr Karyofyllis Zervoulis, 46, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, told VERVE how everything started. “I was approached by Prof Louise Ryan and together, with Donna Jones, Head of Social Work as the third member of the research team we created this project with the help of Lambeth Council, which was interested in collecting data to capture the experience of LGBTQI+ community who lives in Lambeth.”

Our Collective Voice focused on representing the experiences of Black, Asian and/or other minority LGBTQI+ groups, aiming to bring their very essence to life through photographs.

Credit: Alex Cimpeanu

Cinar Aydogan, 29, research assistant, said that a lot was accomplished in a short space of time. “The LamQ+ mixed methods study that we did was done in a very short amount of time and we did quite a huge project,” he said. “We have an online survey, telephone interviews, a focus group, and the Photovoice workshop.”

One thing that stands out from all of this is that we managed to capture the voice of a marginalised group of society.

Cinar Aydogan, 29, research assistant

What made the Photovoice workshops so unique was the aim to not create professional-quality photographs, but to make every voice of the co-researchers count as an important and equal part of the process to create the exhibition. Our Collective Voice was the part of the project which specifically focused on working along with LGBTQI+ people from Black, Asian and other minoritised communities, remarking that these voices tend to be the most under-represented in traditional surveys, hence the Lambeth Council accurately wanted to capture their views. Thus, the Photovoice approach, rooted in feminist and decolonising principles, acknowledged and minimised the power dynamics inherent in the researcher participant relationship.

Donna Jones, Lead Academic Researcher for the Photovoice workshops and exhibition.

“As you can see these pictures are very unfiltered, they are very close to the heart because they are real stories,” Aydogan said. “Most of the time we forget behind the LGBTQI+ acronym there are real people with their stories and I think this exhibition captures those stories.”

Donna Jones, Head of Social Work, Lead Academic researcher for the Photovoice workshops and the exhibition and professional photographer Em Fitzgerald were in charge of the Photovoice series of workshops presented at the Aldgate campus. Coupled with this, co-researchers contributed by exploring issues relevant to them producing original knowledge through photographs accompanied by narratives.

The aim of the project was driven by a deep interest in putting a spotlight on the ‘voices’ of communities often under-represented in research studies. For this reason, the co-researchers that worked on this project had the chance to make their personal stories the core of a major research study. They praised the importance of aligning themselves with others through the Photovoice project describing it as “unique, confidence-building and empowering”.

Nicole Cyrus, 27, a filmmaker who was featured in the Photovoice workshops, said: “It’s been pretty amazing. We all kind of talk very freely. I think the best part about the project is that we were co-researchers. There were questions that we had to follow, but a lot of it was about us directing the space we wanted to be in, directing the themes we wanted to present as the final product.”

Filmmaker Nicole Cyrus Credit: Alex Cimpeanu

The 27-year-old filmmaker said the project was all about “creating a safe space where we could talk about these issues” and where everyone was “going to be heard on the same level”.

The research team worked hard to develop new understandings, identify the needs of and co-design solutions concerning minority groups, in particular within the current challenges posed by the coronavirus. All of this was possible thanks to the effort of Professor Louise Ryan, Director of Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre, which led the LamQ+ project, Donna Jones, Lead Academic researcher for the Photovoice exhibition, Dr Karyofyllis Zervoulis and research assistants Cinar Aydogan and Anna Jakobczak.

Dr Zervoulis explained: “I was responsible for the survey, which was a very long questionnaire, asking about information that Lambeth council wanted to collect about the characteristics of the LGBTQI+ community in Lambeth. We then added some psychometric cases, such as wellbeing, engagement with the queer community.”

Reporter Carolina Piras interviewing Dr Karyofillis Zervoulis Credit: Alex Cimpeanu

Dr Zervoulis clarified the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic was the crucial and most sensitive point of this research. “All the data collection happened during the lockdown. The preparation of data collection took about three months, and the data collection was another three months, during Spring of 2021, and at that point, we started creating the report which we are presenting today.”

A crucial goal of the project was to give more visibility to under-represented groups in the time of coronavirus but to also challenge the traditional research methodology approaches. Thus, the LamQ+ project acknowledged and minimised the power dynamics inherent in the researcher participant relationship.