Why visibility matters

by Amanda Harding

I've always claimed that I'm most comfortable behind the camera and am still today notorious for avoiding the limelight. I've taken this to an extreme: as a student designing theatre sets putting me at the heart of my passion for the theatre yet away from the eye of the audience, a few years later making my own documentary and news pieces until I found myself going as far as handing the camera over to the very subjects of the movie, and now spending the last years connecting, enabling and accompanying often in the name of others. Participatory video is now mainstream, taught to students, practiced by farmers in Ethiopian highlands, youth in Leeds and indigenous peoples in Amazon. Twenty five years ago it was an act of conviction based on the notion that the best story tellers are those that have lived the story itself and that can communicate directly with others. Cutting out the middle(wo)man cuts through the lines of power and creates much needed space for honest authentic conversations.

Nevertheless, who can deny the feelings of pride, satisfaction and surge of confidence that come with the pat on the back, the public compliment, the unexpected thanks. Working in the shadows, behind the scenes, in the wings is certainly a noble position. Giving credit to others in the expectation that their sense of ownership and even responsibility grows is core thinking to the enablers and conveners we claim to be. And yet  how valid, how effective, how rewarding is this really? Are we doing a disservice to ourselves and others through a sense of modesty and humility? Aren't we undermining our very efforts to see change come about by diminishing ourselves while building up others? Limiting ourselves to neutral facilitators not only do we limit our own potential but we also play into the hands of the very power-brokers that, in theory, we aim to challenge. We become complicit in a system that we state we want to see changed.

It is needless to say neither one thing or the other. Neither a claim for directive, arrogant, autocratic if informed leadership nor a call for anarchic if fully owned process-exclusive common decision-making. With clarity of thought, intelligent insight and respectful inclusiveness our responsibility is to talk up and talk out. It is for us to take the stage while constructing the space for the brave conversations that are so absent today. And to do this sheltering behind others is bound to fail as is a pretence of objectivity. Reaching out, holding hands and stepping up is certainly terrifying - to me - but promises energy, solutions and excitement that is sorely missing today.