Collage workshop: Using Collage as a storytelling process

by volpower
4 years ago

Date: 1st February 2020 | Site: GCU Fashion Factory | Glasgow Caledonian University

Blogpost by Dr. Maggie Laidlaw, Glasgow Caledonian University

One of the research methodologies that VOLPOWER applies is creative methods. This is designed to assist volunteers to document their volunteering journeys. As the researcher and curator to lead the VOLPOWER creative exhibition in late 2020, Maggie Laidlaw has been developing creative activities that VOLPOWER partners deliver across the seven national Volhubs. These creative activities include poetry, video, and photography. However, in Glasgow, we used collage as an additional creative method.

By its very nature, collage is about separation, forming, and joining together. Fragmented images overlap and challenge, but also complement one another. In this process, they create an image with a different reading from what the fragments themselves would say on their own. It is a medium that speaks to the aspects of diversity, belonging, relationality, space and time – where images disappear, appear and reappear to make up a brand new narrative.

Marcus Nicholson and Maggie Laidlaw invited the collage artist Frances Ryan to deliver a collage making workshop with the Glasgow VOLPOWER volunteers. Volunteers were invited to engage with this collage activity as a means of expressing themselves, and offering us an insight to their lives, volunteering journeys, and living in Glasgow.

The workshop was divided into three sections:

Introduction: ‘Getting to know Collage’
Session One:  ‘Creating a self-portrait’ 
Session two:  ‘A postcard of our lives’

The Fashion Factory studio within the Glasgow School of Business & Society was booked to hold this event, and four VOLPOWER volunteers took part in the workshop. Dr Fiona Skillen also joined for the morning, and Doga Atalay kindly agreed to act as photographer in order to document the whole process. The GCU space was perfect for engaging volunteers in this creative activity. The surroundings were bright, colourful and informal. Examples of student fashion design works were on display around the studio, arousing a sense of creativity in all. Huge design tables allowed the volunteers, researchers and visiting artist to sit around the same table to discuss the content of the morning activity. All volunteers said that they had not participated in collage making before and were a little apprehensive. However, they all very quickly immersed themselves in this creative process.

Marcus had brought copies of the volunteers’ photographs from their previous ‘photography workshop’, and our artist Frances Ryan arrived accompanied by boxes of images, magazines and old postage stamps and postcards for the volunteers to use. The volunteers were instructed and guided through each activity with Frances offering support and guidance on cutting, tearing, laying and composition.

It was fascinating to watch the volunteers congregate around the same table, pondering over the collection of visual imagery, and finding significance within the images on offer. They showed images to one another, and helped each other find what each might be looking for. This process allowed an opening for dialogue among this diverse group of young people, offering new insights into each other’s lives. They stood in close proximity to each other, moving easily between concentrating deeply on their activity, and chatting and laughing about the images they were finding within the collection of magazines and photographs. 

At the end of each activity session, volunteers held up their compositions and described their creative narrative to the rest of the group. All volunteers were able to express themselves and talk about their lives. Their lived experiences, memories and emotions were represented in their compositions – and the outcome of some of these works were rich with meaning. They spoke about their personal lives, volunteering, and living in their communities. Data emerged from the activity that may not have emerged through more traditional research methods, and volunteers shared things about themselves that we may not have thought to ask as researchers. While each artwork was unique to the individual, the volunteers were able recognise aspects of their own lives within each other’s stories. For example, many of the collage works contained facets of time, and the difficulties the volunteers face balancing time within different aspects of their lives.

Collage, like many creative practices, is a reflective process that requires a more ‘pondering’ temporal space, than for example, research methods that often require a more immediate response from research participants. There is also a methodological process to the gathering, selecting, evaluating, and presenting of images that takes place in a collage work – in ways somewhat similar to how researchers work (Gerstenblatt 2013)*. This is not an easy activity for a first-timer, however, the Glasgow VOLPOWER volunteers were very successful in choosing and presenting images that represented their lives. They listened to the artist and took on-board guidance offered – and presented their collages very confidently to the wider group.

Since this workshop took place, a few of the volunteers have spoken to us about how much they enjoyed the workshop and how they looked forward to doing it again.

We had planned to repeat a similar collage activity at the VOLPOWER Advanced Leadership Training week in Malta this month. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, this event had to be postponed.

The following images have been shared with permission from the volunteers.

Photos from workshop

Introduction: Getting to know Collage:  Leon
Volunteers were asked to choose two images, cut them in half and place together to create a new image.

Leon’s Collage

Session 1. Self Portrait: Amy (selected piece from full collage)

Amy’s Collage

Self Portrait: Mofe (selected piece from full collage)

Mofe’s Collage

‘Postcard from self’: Leo (Abdi) (selected piece from full collage)

Leo’s (Abdi) Collage

Self-Portrait: Leon (selected piece from full collage)

Leon’s Collage

Dr. Maggie Laidlaw
VolPower Glasgow
The Glasgow School of Business & Society
Glasgow Caledonian University

*Gerstenblatt, Paula. 2013. ‘Collage Portraits as a Method of Analysis in Qualitative Research’. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 12(1):294–309.