Ann Megalla


Lens on Life in Lebanon: Photo-Essay Workshop & Exhibition

participation3Project Scope
‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’ is a photo-essay workshop initiative I led in partnership with Migrant Worker’s Task Force & Netherlands Embassy in Lebanon to introduce 15 migrant domestic workers to learn photography as a tool for developing a small-scale photo-essay project for practical media training, social inclusion and advocacy.

A series of 5x2hour workshops (from Nov 11 to Dec 9 2012) was taught by me and co-founder of and media studies lecturer at AUB & LAU, Dima Saber. Together with the help of a small group of facilitators, students from various ethnic backgrounds including Sudanese, Ethiopian and Cameroonian, learned not only the art of photography and digital storytelling, but also, take part in a supportive social network integrated in an educational setting.

Based on PhotoVoice teaching resources on participatory photography, at its simplest,  photography is an accessible tool for self-expression: it can be quickly learned and it’s not difficult for people to take decent pictures either through their mobile phone devices or digital cameras. Digital images gives instant results, and requires no formal training to become an effective tool for communication, observation and creativity.

Specifically, the process can help students build relationships; gain confidence and feel valued; learn the language of photography and its practices; reflect safely on their lives and experiences; gain new skills; communicate and self-express



Overcoming Language Barriers
The multi-lingual course was taught in English and translated in Arabic and French. Providing translation between facilitators and participants ensured that activities and explanations were clearly communicated and culturally appropriate for the participants.

Photography is useful creative tool for participants with limited levels of English. The language of images offers an opportunity for communication using only a few words. Our aim was to show visually with simple captions (in both Arabic & English translation) things around them, which they think are important, interesting, new, or exciting.

Exploring identities
By teaching the participants to turn the lens on themselves and their neighbourhood, we saw over time the formation of a visual autobiography, offering a unique opportunity to explore, study and communicate issues of identity, integration, memory, friendship, hopes & aspirations.

At its core, Lens on Life in Lebanon reflects the process of creating new identities, a process of re-building and re-negotiating self-identity.



Lens on Life in Lebanon Exhibition: a Tool for Public Communication
Lens on Life Exhibition was launched at AltCity during festivities held at Community Day on Dec 16, in honour of International Migrant’s Day on Dec 18 & International Human Rights Day on Dec 10, 2012.

The Exhibition received a positive response not only from the students, peers and event organisers, but also in the media. Offering a unique opportunity for the participant to take great pride in their work, as they see other people take their work seriously and take note of what they have to say.

We are all too aware that public opinion is broadly unsympathetic towards migrant domestic workers living in Lebanon.  Endemic negative issues, such as, racism & violence towards domestic migrant workers and high-suicide rates are well documented in the media.

During our participatory photography project however, the students were in control of their own image production, offering the potential to give the power of representation back to those who are traditionally subjects of the media.

For the first time, a new president in positive media production of migrant domestic workers was produced through Lens on Life in Lebanon. As observed in The Daily Star:

It is common knowledge that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have a hard time. What’s not so easy to ascertain is how they view the country, their lives here and their employers… [a]s a general rule the photo essays are overwhelmingly positive. Most focus on the small pleasures and joyful moments of daily life…”

The Future of ‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’
Over time, the resulting project aims to be a powerful and versatile online multimedia campaign for conveying a story, a call to action, dialogue and conversation with beneficiaries who can make the difference, and add value and impact to an advocacy campaign.

The key ways in which such a multimedia online project can add value to an advocacy campaign include: sustainable contribution to migrant integration, personal testimonies, a new perspective on a familiar issue, adding integrity to community organizations, allowing new voices to be heard, building foundations for ongoing campaigns, and reaching new audiences in new ways.



Press & Social Media links to Community Day & ‘Lens on Life in Lebanon’ Exhibition @ AltCity:

Infographics: Visualizing Human Rights for Migrant Workers in Lebanon @ AltCity

Straight To Vimeo

The power of the web continues to break new ground in documentary film.

An article in Creative Review July 2012 Straight To Vimeo took my eye, so much so, I delve deeper to learn how the web can act as a facilitator for documentary film production and presentation. I viewed several films mentioned in the article to get a sense of what the filmmaker was trying to achieve when crafting their story.

I have embedded some of these films below and include a short summary of the relevant issues affecting or challenging traditional documentary production for online.

In summary, the article explores new ways producers are making and showing documentary films with digital media technology. Harnessing high-def equipment and high-speed editing and publishing tools for little cost, filmmakers are investing more time polishing their storytelling craft:

“We’re entering a period of high romanticism where you’ll get more really emotional pieces on film and not necessarily factual; it’s a style reaction” observes Adam Curtis of The Guardian (p.34)

Also, the article discusses how the internet has become an integral part of the film making process. From announcing the project, research & producing it, to funding, releasing and distributing the final film all happened via the web.

“The web can act as a facilitator, a way to bring attention to a particular cause, even fund an entire film project” Gary Hustwit (p.35)

London’s Pilgrim Films has raised awareness of issues of marginalized communities across the globe including Vimeo documentary winner for 2012 Amar, which follows a day in the life of a 14 year-old boy in the city of Jamshedpur, India.  “As his routine is not unlike the fate of silent millions who lead lives of quiet drudgery in a daily battle for survival. If it makes people stop and think for a moment about their own lives, and how they choose to use their time, then that‘s all I can hope for” says filmmaker Andrew Hilton.

In Keith Ehrilich’s  (USA) Made By Hand series, considers how something was made, who made it, and where it was made and under what conditions. Making films about the production process under threat from the convenience of modern technology appeals both to the online viewer and the filmmaker, using their skills inherent to traditional forms of production.

So does this mean the documentary viewing experience is better off viewed on the small-screen?

I still believe the cinema experience of watching films on a large screen, sitting in a dark space, away from distraction, remains my favoured experience. However, the web effect, for documentaries is its enabling well crafted films about niche subjects to connect directly with their audience, finding it’s roots firmly in the internet and removed from the traditional models of distribution via cinema and television networks.

In putting your shorts on Vimeo, and having them go out to blogs and other online media outlets, the number of views can quickly get up to the hundreds of thousands. I’m not even sure why TV networks exist anymore, to be honest. A film can reach more people via the web, both from a funding and a viewership perspective.

What do you think? Is television still the ideal platform for documentary?