How Photography Is Empowering London's Marginalised Communities

How Photography Is Empowering London's Marginalised Communities
The People's Estates © Cinzia D'Ambrosi

Cinzia D'Ambrosi greets me with a warm hug, the kind you might reserve for an old friend instead of a recent acquaintance. It's this easy-going, open-hearted nature — likely a byproduct of her Italian upbringing — which allows the photojournalist to embed herself in the communities she works with.

"I really love meeting people," she tells me over a coffee in Foyles. "Generally, I can sense when people are comfortable with me. You form a relationship over months and years and find out what's happening — I become like part of the family."

D'Ambrosi's camera has taken her around the world, from exposing illegal coal mines in China to capturing the psychological and physical violence faced by refugees at Europe's borders, yet she is always drawn back to London and its west London residents.

The Other Half © Cinzia D'Ambrosi

Whether it's following a community as they attempt to save their homes from redevelopment in the series The People's Estates or unpicking the layers of hidden homelessness in The Other Half, D'Ambrosi is a firm believer in photography as a tool that can bring about positive change.

It's this belief that drove her to launch a Photojournalism Hub in her hometown White City. With support from Hammersmith United Charities, the not-for-profit, will host photography exhibitions, community-led forums and training sessions.

The aim is to engage local people in social justice issues and empower them to tell their own stories through photos. D'Ambrosi calls this practice Citizen Visual Journalism. "It's not just about teaching people how to create high-quality images but also helping them to put their story in front of the policymakers and charities who might be able to change their circumstances."

The 41-year-old knows all too well the power a photo can wield.

Samantha, a 35-year-old single mum of three children aged 11, nine and an infant of five months were privately renting until they were evicted without warning. The Other Half © Cinzia D'Ambrosi

A chance encounter in the street and some well-timed eavesdropping led D'Ambrosi to Samantha, a single mother who was sofa surfing until D'Ambrosi set up a meeting with the homeless charity Shelter.

The Prejudice and Us project in collaboration with Protection Approaches [PDF] offers further proof that photos provoke conversations, which in turn can lead to change — if the right people are paying attention.

"Sometimes I think, what does it take to be a Prime Minister? In my mind, it is almost impossible to become a Prime Minister for anybody of my colour. I don't know why." Prejudice and Us June 2016. © Cinzia D'ambrosi

"Over two years we looked at how young people are affected by racism and prejudice and how the state is supporting or failing them. Common issues young people brought up involved stop and search tactics and subtle discrimination based on perceived social status."

Locals and young people from youth clubs like North Kensington's Harrow Club W10 were given camera equipment in order to interview and snap each other before presenting their shared experiences to police and councillors. If nothing else, the project gave them a much-needed platform for their voices to be heard.

"Photography is a powerful tool because people are immediately drawn to visuals, plus it can be used as evidence to improve lives, something I really care about," says D'Ambrosi. But it also serves as a reminder of what is lost when funding dries up — D'Ambrosi has photographed hostels which have since closed and people who have slipped through the net and into a place of insecurity and isolation.

Prejudice and Us. © Cinzia D'Ambrosi

The saddest case D'Ambrosi documented involved three generations of women who were evicted from their flat.

The mother and daughter were moved to a hostel miles from the daughter's school but the grandmother didn't have stable Home Office status so couldn't access housing assistance for fear of being deported. Instead, she was forced to sleep in a shop, where the daughter worked.

"To me, it was very painful to hear about this 70+ year-old woman sleeping alone in this closed shop," says D'Ambrosi, who helped raise funds to cover the funeral costs when the grandmother passed away.

"White City is currently undergoing huge regeneration. There is all this investment in bringing new people to the area with no thought to the people already here," she says, "The constant fear of eviction is creating a sense of insecurity among the locals. I really feel that it's such a strong community, it would be a real loss if it disappeared."  

"Meanings of the Past is an Oral History Archive project to preserve, celebrate and promote the history of migration and settlement of the Afro-Caribbean communities in White City through the collection of images and audio files among the elderly Afro-Caribbean community living in White City." © Cinzia D'ambrosi

Her photos lay bare the effects of poverty and social isolation, the ever-widening chasm between rich and poor and the splintering of communities displaced from their homes due to redevelopment. Look closer and you'll also find stories of resilience and mental strength as well as community and family ties shining through.

For D'Ambrosi the benefits of a photojournalism hub are obvious: "We need to share this information. It's not just about investing money and trying to catch people who do bad things. We also need to look at the causes behind someone's actions and find out how people are living. Only then can we begin to seek out the solutions."

The first Photojournalism Night is on the 27 February at the newly opened art gallery Elephant West. And the next debate event is on 4 February. Find out more about the Photojournalism Hub on the website.

Last Updated 13 December 2018