Photographing Communities: Marysa Dowling and Russell Watkins

A woman stands next to a field pointing skyward. Around her waist like a belt is a blue plastic bag.

Photographing Communities: Marysa Dowling and Russell Watkins

On Photography
Photographer Marysa Dowling and PhotoVoice Chair and photographer Russell Watkins offer tips on working with communities.

Key advice from photographer Marysa Dowling

  • Ask yourself why you want to work with a particular community – consider the ethics and also the context you might want to present the work in
  • Get support from an organisation or someone connected with that community who can help you make connections
  • Think about your methodology for working with this community – will there be a common thread or core that will run through your work? Think about what can help you tell a story. 
  • Ensure you obtain consent from the individuals photographed, and ensure they understand the context(s) in which you might present your work now or in the future
  • Be respectful of people’s privacy and decisions not to be involved, should they choose so.

Key advice from photographer and PhotoVoice Chair Russell Watkins:

  • Research –do your homework, develop a plan for the story you think you want to tell, identify the key people you need to talk to;
  • Time – ensure you give yourself the time needed to build a relationship with the community you’re interested in
  • Collaborate – be willing and open to working in partnership
  • Objectives – establishing clear, concrete aims and objectives is essential to the success of a project
  • Sustainability – consider the long-term sustainability of the project and work towards this wherever possible


Marysa Dowling’s practice considers human exchange, exploring how people interact with each other and their environments. Her playful and thoughtful projects use photography to build connections across communities and societies. Dowling has worked on commissions and exhibited in the UK, Ireland, USA, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, India and Lebanon.

Russell Watkins has worked in photography for over 15 years. Since 2008 he has worked for the Department for International Development, documenting the impact of the UK’s overseas aid in developing countries around the world. Since 2014 he’s been a trustee and supporter of participatory photography charity PhotoVoice.

PhotoVoice’s mission is to create positive social change by building skills within disadvantaged and marginalised communities through using innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling methods. PhotoVoice also runs a public training programme for practitioners who would like to learn more about the practicalities and ethics in running participatory photography projects.