Homemade Media

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project

People outside the major spheres of power are often denied access to the tools and technologies of self-expression. This is often the unfortunate by-product of poverty; education is out reach of the majority of the majority of the world's population and access to media tools (including cameras, editing software, recording studios, the Internet) and other systems is often prohibitively expensive. Although this situation can be debilitating to people who are caught in those circumstances, the rest of society suffers as well: they are deprived of stories and perspectives that could enrich their understanding of the world while preparing them to become better citizens of the world — and their local community.


Anybody with a story to tell — and this includes everybody — could benefit from this pattern. This pattern, however, specifically addresses those people with little to no access to media production of any kind. Although this pattern focuses on the people who lack the access, implementation of this pattern often requires the assistance of people and organizations who have both the resources and interest in working with people in a participatory way.


The story told in the 2004 documentary "Born into Brothels" is an excellent example of this pattern. In 1997, New York-based photographer Zana Briski traveled to India to document the lives of women, children and men who lived in Calcutta's impoverished red light district. During the next three years, some of which was spent living in the brothels, Briski noticed that many of the children of the prostitutes were fascinated by her photographic equipment. Soon she started giving them cameras and helping them to use them as a new lens to look at their world. Later she organized shows at galleries for the photographs and made the photographs available on the Internet. The money from the sales is now being used to help support the children's education. While raising money for the worthy cause of education — and raising the consciousness of millions of others who watched the documentary — is exemplary, the most important outcome of the project may be the increased awareness and perception that seemed to be unlocked in the children by the acts of observing and recording their surroundings with the camera.

While the Homemade Media pattern is not a panacea it does have many possible benefits. The first benefit is of course that learning to create media helps build skills and as such may lead to employment. Regardless of that, however, it helps build confidence and self-esteem. These positive attitudes about oneself and the desire to keep persisting in the craft of creating media — whether photography, interviews, audio recordings, or newspapers — is a good defense against self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol or other drug abuse or gang activity or criminal outlets. The act of capturing an image in a camera's viewfinder or writing down fragments of overheard conversations or otherwise recording promotes the idea of reflection upon various aspects of life or the imagination.

Media is inherently shareable in some way. Photographs can displayed for viewing in galleries, printed in magazine or hung on public walls. Videos can be shown on televisions or in theaters. These can be artistic, informational, or lead to social change in some way. In any case, however, they can be used to communicate with others. Homemade Media can open up channels of communication with people, as audience or as potential partners for additional collaboration.

A few other examples can show a little more of the breadth of the pattern: Drawings of children in Darfur present the horror of genocide that is hard to shake off. Gumball Poetry (http://www.gumballpoetry.com/) allows people to buy a short poem from a gumball machine for 25 cents. One of the most remarkable projects, however, took place in Bogoto, Colombia. Film-maker Felipe Aljure developed the Rebeldes con Cauce project in which he worked with 140 young people with no filmmaking experience to help them learn how to make films (Dowmunt, 1988). Most of the students were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They studied film, developed outlines and created ten to fifteen minute films which were ultimately aired on Bogota's channel Canal Capital where they received "outstanding" ratings.

The Plugged In Project in East Palo Alto helped teach underprivileged youths how to create web pages that told their stories (while teaching them a skill, self-confidence, etc.) from celebrating Thanksgiving holiday with their family to witnessing the seizure of a family member by immigration officials for now have the appropriate papers to remain in the country.

The homeless newspaper movement is active in many cities around the world. Although it takes different forms in different cities, the basic model is the same: The newspaper concentrates on issues of homelessness and poverty, two subjects that are likely to be covered sensitively or in much depth by mainstream media. Beyond that the newspaper is often actively engaged in the struggle for the rights of poor people and engages poor people and their communities in every aspect of the newspaper production and distribution. The Real Change weekly newspaper in Seattle is sold by people who are homeless or otherwise in underprivileged positions for $1.00 and receive 70 cents for each paper sold.

Introductory graphic can be found at http://www.kids-with-cameras.org/bornintobrothels/

The Homemade Media can be applied in a million ways. Support and enjoy homemade media in your community and around the world.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Capturing an image or conversation encourages reflection and introspection yet people outside the major spheres of power have little access to the technologies and tools of self-expression. Although this can be harmful to those people, others are deprived of enriching stories and perspectives. Homemade Media helps build confidence and self-esteem as well as employment skills. Anybody with a story to tell can benefit from Homemade Media.

Pattern status: 
Information about introductory graphic: 
Kids With Cameras