This reflection piece is written by Rya Celine Ducusin, Communications and Knowledge Management Officer of TUKLAS Central and Southern Luzon Lab.
I found TUKLAS halfway through its implementation. I had a lot of proposals, guidance documents, briefers, and manuals to go through, given how complex the project is.
But one thing was clear: my task was to capture stories, photos, and videos of the innovation teams throughout their implementation stage.
After several project orientations and staff introductions, I had the courage to ask: Do we have a DSLR?
It was a shock for me to find out that our lab had none. I would gladly volunteer mine but it was in the middle of having a slight breakdown, with its lens being blurry and a cracked screen.
I was left with no choice but to use my smartphone for the next months.
I browsed through Google Photos – the platform the Central and Southern Luzon Lab uses to share photos – and saw the same scenario. Most photos taken by the lab, even during inception meetings and municipal visits, were shot using a smartphone.
Higher Gear Attempts
It was after a few attempts to bring my camera on fieldworks that I realized it was too heavy when crossing the Pampanga River and I would rather have a pocket-sized camera upon traversing Batanes of the East in Dingalan, Aurora.
Camera specs and features weren’t key to capturing great photos, the subject of it was. My first field work in Dingalan, Aurora proved this. With just 16 MP, my smartphone tried to capture smiles of children kneading sawdust and glue together, mothers and barangay health workers mapping out the houses within their areas, and men carrying plywood around the basketball court of Barangay Paltic.
Riding a boat from mainland Estancia, Iloilo to an island barangay with a big camera inside a bulky bag wasn’t an easy feat even if I had left everything back on the shore. On one guidance document I read said it was necessary to capture how to get to the community: the forms of transportation available, the ride going there, and the initial view. But with the rough waves in Estancia that welcomed us, I felt like it was necessary to put a life vest on the camera as well. I didn’t dare to pull it out during the 20-minute boat ride but I did so with my smartphone to be able to gather the needed shots.
Masantol Cross Lab with Kalimudan Foundation and Center for Emergency Aid and Response, took place on a sunny weekend, giving us a chance to visit Barangay Sapang Kawayan, a coastal barangay off the coast of Pampanga River. With only our phones at hand, we waded through the flooded alleys of the barangay, much like how locals do every day. Together with three innovators from Mindanao, sir Razden, sir Wowie, and sir Alyasa, and their community engagement officer, kuya Dexter, we were able to see the hydroponics system our innovator, kuya Joey, had been proudly sharing for the last two days the Cross Lab has been taking place.
Seeing the whole system was a surprise for me as it was different from what I have imagined. Upon coming back to Manila, we showed the pictures to Mina, CSL’s MEAL Officer, and the sight of the Hydroponics System amazed her. She admitted it was a bit difficult to imagine based on submitted reports but seeing its structure through the pictures also made it easier for her to interpret the reports submitted by CONCERN.
Most innovation teams, too, captured their documentation using smartphones. This was apparent during reporting when often times they send in the status of their innovation. But since not all have a high megapixel cameras in their smartphones, the lab takes in what it can. Photos bridge the gap between what is written in the paper and what the lab think the innovation looks like; there may be times when it is hard to imagine what the innovation looks like and having pictures complement the progress they state on paper.
Strengthening Documentation Practices
As TUKLAS Project gives much emphasis on learning, capturing the how and the why is deemed important to be able to learn from it to influence implementation, so we could contribute to the wider disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM), humanitarian, and innovation ecosystems. TUKLAS recognizes the need for innovations to be thoroughly documented, if possible, photos and clips would be taken at each step of the way. Documenting innovations proved two things: capturing the entire process builds more compelling stories and interesting pivots start to show up along the way.
Eight months was both short but adequate time to work on solutions and pivot, and it was necessary for the lab to have a glimpse of relevant events and pivots the innovators have done, not just for monitoring but to aid them in whatever they need.
During Pasundayag, it was observable that more than the end product, some guests were interested in the process of coming up with the solution. Some would ask how they came up with such final prototype, given a short span of time. This is where proper documentation comes in; CSL Lab innovators were able to showcase several events that led to their final innovation prototypes through videos and photos.
In this digital age of stories, partners now prefer short anecdotes of significant instances in the process rather than narrating the whole journey. These anecdotes, when put together, forms the innovation narrative of each team.
However, the lab also acknowledges there is a gap between the existing documentation skills of the innovators with the needs of the lab. This is complemented by regularly visiting projects to see their progress.
There could also be a TUKLAS-wide capacity building on capturing photos and videos. For CSL Lab, we were able to share some resources to our innovators on how to take photos, even with a low quality gadget at hand.
Perhaps photo walks around the community can be a good practice to enhance their skills in taking photos.
Consent is Key
TUKLAS often reiterates the importance of consent. Consent must always be given by the subjects of the photo, whether in written or verbal. Attendance sheets during events also serve as a consent form to take shots and clips while an activity is ongoing. There is a note below the standardized TUKLAS attendance sheet that it doubles as a consent form not only for photos and videos, but also the stories they would be sharing during sessions; this note is translated to the local language for easier understanding.
But even with a consent form, it can also be powerful to re-echo to community members verbally that they will be taken photos and videos of and remind them that documentation at hand may be shared to a wider audience locally and internationally. However, if a person refuses to have their photos taken, we may have to keep our cameras low to respect their decision.
Of course, it is also necessary to keep these consent forms in file for future use.
We have to admit that the quality of a 16 MP camera may not be suitable for online posting and printing. It may not capture the exact colors or it may be too dark. I have more than 5 camera applications on my phone but these are the top 3 tools I use for photos when on the field. The good news is these are all for free! You may also want to check out other open-source tools that suits your style:
- VSCO – Always my go-to photo editor because of its simplicity. I like its sharpen feature so I can highlight certain details in a picture, especially when there are a lot of things happening in one scene. The filters it has also gives emphasis on natural colors which I often use when capturing photos of nature.
- Snapseed – Compared to VSCO, Snapseed has more options to choose from when it comes to editing the details of a picture. I often use this when editing photos while I’m in transit or I have the patience to address each uneven element.
- Google Photos – While its features may be limited when it comes to editing, the lab mainly uses it to store photos. It has unlimited storage and automatic back-up feature when you are connected to the net. This becomes handy when your phone memory becomes limited and you forget to transfer photos to your laptop.
These are handy (and light on memory!) apps that can be helpful when capturing stories on the ground.
Where will these go?
In this era of ever evolving technology, quality seems to be the top priority when producing outputs. We must be reminded that more than pixel count, it’s the tale behind the picture that matters the most. A photo must capture the reality of an innovation but it must also convey the story of how an innovation came to be – the hardships, challenges, and successes it went through to produce the final prototype.
These stories, photos, videos, and knowledge products are intended to be shared to a wider audience, not just in the innovation and humanitarian sectors but in other relevant areas that can learn bits and pieces from what we have accomplished as TUKLAS Innovation Labs.