This article analyses the impact of participatory photography as a tool for community development. In recent decades, participatory arts and media initiatives are increasingly agency – rather than community-led, their value assessed using linear evaluative models and framed in terms of short-term, measurable, results. It is argued that these tendencies impede the potential critical contribution of participatory photography to social change processes and fail to capture important aspects of the psychosocial, political and subjective impact of projects. As a result projects struggle to prove their worth: the evidence base is weak and learning about the social reality of practice is hindered.

This article presents research on Los Talleres de Fotografia Social (TAFOS), a pioneering Peruvian community photography project, that demonstrates the enduring long-term impact that community-led participatory photography projects can have on the critical consciousness of participants. Participatory photography is understood as an emergent process whose effects cannot be planned or predetermined but that rather needs to be understood in context, over time and from the subjective perspectives of participants. Discussing both the potential and the limitations of participatory photography, its uncertain contribution and the value of its open-ended effects within processes of nurtured emergent community development this research contributes to literature pushing for a reconfiguration in how we understand, capture and attribute the impact of participatory photography, and participatory arts and media more broadly, as a tools for social change.

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