Collaboration or participation – Small town revelations

David Austin recently wrote this paper, Small town revelations as part of his masters requirements. Within his work and his writings, I am most interested in his personal conflicts regarding his interaction with small towns. In other words, his process.
A question he asked himself: Is this collaboration or participation?
This is a question that I am also constantly grappling with as I, in a sense, infiltrate the northern town Kaeo, the subject of my fourth year project. In interacting with the town, the landscape and the people through what began as an autobiographical investigation I am beginning to explore and question my very situation in this project and the psychological migration involved in my process.
I have built networks in this place and have created new relations, re-establishing my idea of home and in incorporating others (in what I think is a collaborative engagement) I am encouraging others to do the same.
In questioning others perceptions of place through workshops (where participants make sculptures from materials taken from this site), I am affectively raising questions:
What is my place as the artist within all of this?
Do they accept me and my interpretations of their home place?
Do they consider me as a collaborator?
These kinds of questions are what I am constantly contemplating as I travel back and fourth preparing for these workshops.
This is an abstract from Austin’s essay:
Small town revelations: a dramatised, photographic retelling of regionalised histories, legends, myths and past characters within small town Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Alternative Title: Research question : can collaboratively staged photographic tableaux visually express a local identity, with particular reference to the location, history and legend of small towns and, if so, how might the inhabitants assist in defining a sense of place through this collaboration?
Masters ThesisMaster of Design, Unitec Institute of Technology

This Masters of Design by Project is a heuristic practice-based research undertaking that investigates perceptions of local identity and sense of place for residents of small town Aotearoa New Zealand. Through establishment of an interactive collaborative methodology this project seeks to derive potentially viable illustrative subject matter based upon folklore relevant to the local residents of small towns and remote communities.This exegesis documents an investigation that encompasses those within society who choose to attach themselves to distinctive places within the landscape and how they might identify themselves within it. Both this document and the project’s photographic works evidence a journey of discovery ; a journey that looked to uncover small town history, myth, and legend, the known and little known, the past and bygone, the people, lifestyles and place. These are places where the residents feel very much of, in contrast to being merely from.

Appropriately then it was the residents of small towns who became storytellers, revealing folklore that informed the narratives underpinning each of the works which are intended to portray a sequence of events that reflects a local story. Significant challenges lay in reinterpreting verbally recollected stories into something visually tangible and engaging. As artistically motivated reinterpretations of folklore the works expose an inherent acuity for stereotype, sentimentalism and nostalgia. However, instead of detracting or distracting from the storyline these cognitive characteristics potentially become contributory facets that add new layers to the narrative.

Along this journey I became many things more than simply an empathetic photographer. My function progressively developed from that of outside observer to include the roles of listener, facilitator, negotiator, translator, activist, director, digital technician and, ultimately, that of a visual story re-teller.”


Austin, D. (2013). Small town revelations: a dramatised, photographic retelling of regionalised histories, legends, myths and past characters within small town Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved from:


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