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21 May 2014
WE TELL: Understanding Urban Poverty

The Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) project launched the We Tell photo project in 2013 as part of its monitoring and communications strategies. We Tell is a participatory initiative which gives voice to girls and women to tell the story of their lives and those of their communities through photography. The results are intimate portraits of life in poor urban settlements through the eyes of girls and women which UPPR works with.

The We Tell methodology

UPPR is a community led project. Its foundations are groups of women coming together to define their development needs; identify those most in need of support; and to manage contracts which deliver change in their communities. UPPR uses a range of methods and approaches to understand the contexts it works in and the outcomes it is achieving.

We Tell is one such methodology. Reflecting the participatory nature of the project, girls and women from poor urban settlements are asked to document their lives and those of their communities over the course of a week. No prescription of what to photograph is given. The girls and women are encouraged to tell their own stories. They allow others to see the world through their eyes.

We Tell in practice

Thirty girls and women from three slums in Tongi, Khulna and Naogaon were asked to be part of the project. They were provided with digital cameras and were tutored by professional photographer Emdad Islam Bitu, a specialist in working with poor and vulnerable communities. Together, the participants learnt how to use the cameras and to capture images that would tell the story of their lives and those of their communities. This included standalone images and photo essays. The professional photographer then supported the girls and women to edit and caption their photographs.

The results

The results of We Tell are intimate and striking portraits of families and communities at work and play. Through over 1,000 pictures, the participants give a deeply personal tour of their lives. They introduce the challenges for women who combined motherhood, household management, and employment. They invite us into the social and personal spaces of their community; from a tea shop in the early morning to a family preparing for sleep at night. The girls and women do capture the difficulties of everyday life in a slum. But throughout they reflect the vibrancy of their communities. 

So often photographed from the perspective of outsiders, these photos invite us to see slums through the eyes of its residents. These photos and stories challenge any sense of ‘Otherness’ and create space for a new connection between the slum dwellers and the wider city. 

We Tell also had an empowering effect on its photographers. Girls and women with little or no previous photographic experience demonstrated remarkable vision and natural talent once given the opportunity to tell their own story.

The photo-exhibition

We Tell presents the women with a unique opportunity to share their life experiences with a wider audience. At the Institute for Asian Creatives, over 60 We Tell photographs were shared, giving a new insight into the realities of life in a poor urban settlement through the perspective of women who live there.

Over twenty participants were present at the opening of the We Tell exhibition on 19 May. They toured the attendees through their work, giving more insights on why they chose to photograph the respective subjects and their intended message to the public. 

Post- We Tell

Nine photographers have been asked to continue working with UPPR as community documenters. Equipped with the camera and new skills, the community documenters will regularly capture and share images of relevant events in their neighborhoods. This will give UPPR the opportunity to share more fragments of the lives in the slums and use it to raise awareness on urban poverty in Bangladesh. 

Some of the best We Tell photos can be seen at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanpovertyreduction