What is Photovoice?
Photovoice is a community-based and participatory qualitative research method that is frequently used as a community needs assessment. Photovoice employs collaboration for the purpose of enhancing positive social action and driving social change.
To utilize Photovoice, research participants capture images that bring to life the experiences, values, challenges and opportunities of vulnerable communities. Amplifying people’s voices and improving the life of those that are unheard and disfranchised makes photovoice a methodology that is appealing to many researchers who wish to make a positive social impact.
Since 1992 municipalities, government organizations, research institutions, universities, community-based organizations, and others have used Photovoice to bring issues and inequities and community concerns to the forefront. Photovoice is an appropriate and valuable research method to be considered by community planners and those in the planning field. People and community life are typically the subject matter for both community planning and Photovoice.
Caroline Wang and colleagues developed the Photovoice methodology in the 1990s and since then Photovoice has been successfully implemented in a variety of settings and populations. This process engages individuals who typically do not have access to the people who make decisions over their lives (Wang & Burris 1997; Strack et al. 2004). Photovoice is grounded in health promotion principles and the theoretical literature on education for critical consciousness, feminist theory, and a community-based approach to documentary photography (Wang & Burris 1997; Wang 2006).
Researchers who are involved in Photovoice projects are not neutral investigators but are active participants in using this methodology to try and shape the lives of its participants. Photovoice provides an opportunity for the investigator to intentionally amplify voices and ideas that they think will significantly change the dynamics of issues and topics they are studying.
Photovoice is a tool for community planners that operates like photojournalism in that it creates awareness and can bring people to action. Photovoice utilizes participants creativity, imagination and perspective to generate data for community planning initiatives.
Main Objectives of Photovoice:
- Capturing data from community members that reflects the strengths and challenges connected to place.
- Expand awareness and dialogue around issues connected to a specific community.
- Bridge policy makers and community members to improve issues and topics impacting communities.
- Strengthen the local capacity of committee members to take action on issues and topics that impact their lives.
The Stakeholders of Photovoice
There are typically two groups of stakeholders that should be considered when it comes to Photovoice, the audience for the photos and participants that will capture the photos for the projects. The audience of Photovoice projects are typically residents of a community, decision makers, policy makers, and a larger group of community leaders. The participants are generally under resourced, vulnerable, oppressed, marginalized, or underrepresented individuals in a community. Below is a list of demographic groups that typically participate as participants in Photovoice projects.
- People facing homelessness
- Teenagers and young people
- Senior citizens
- Immigrants or English language learners
- Religious minorities
- Racial minorities
- Individuals with disabilities
- The LGBTQ community
- Those formally incarcerated
When conducting studies and drafting reports it is important to keep in mind the audience of the report and those who are at the center of the study. That said, those conducting the research should keep in mind equity concerns of all stakeholders. Researchers should reflect on their own positionality, why they are conducting the research, and how thier project will empowers stakeholders to positively impact their own lives. The overall project can also serve as opportunity to have stakeholders reflect on the community's power dynamics.
In small groups or in a large group, each participant should frame stories about their photos using the SHOWeD method as a guide (Wang & Burris, 1997; Wang, 2006; Photovoice Hamilton Ontario, 2007). Questions to facilitate the SHOWeD method are listed below.
- What do you See here?
- What’s really Happening here?
- How does this relate to Our lives?
- Why does this situation exist?
- What can we Do about it?
The participants should add a “bumper sticker” title on a sticky note to the photo. This “bumper sticker” title should be short or catchy like something that you would see on a bumper sticker on a bike or car. The participants will then present their photo and story, guided by the SHOWeD method, to the group (potentially consider a time limit for each presentation), and tape their picture up on the wall so the group can see it. If the participants see any common issues or themes, they should be encouraged to group like photos and give their reason for doing this. This will help to start codifying the photos.
After the first workshop of selecting, contextualizing, and codifying, the facilitator may want to have the participants start drafting 3-5 sentence captions that reflect the SHOWeD method and the reason behind why they took the picture. The facilitator can also wait to do this part of the activity until the exhibit preparation and discussion of major themes when the photos for the exhibit have been chosen.
In cases where it appears that the SHOWeD method is too lengthy for the participants, facilitators may consider focusing the participants around the bumper sticker title and the first three questions (what they see, what is happening, and how it relates to their lives), particularly in the first selecting, contextualizing, and codifying workshop.
As the participants take more photos and go through more selecting, contextualizing, and codifying workshops, the facilitator’s may want to emphasize the last two questions (why does this situation exist and what can we do about it) more—if this does not already happen organically. Additionally, all of the SHOWeD method questions will help the participants write longer 3-5 sentence captions that go along with their pictures that they plan to showcase in the exhibit.
Once all of the selected photos are on the wall, the whole group (if in small groups, everyone should come together for this step) will codify the issues or themes that arise from the photographs. Facilitators can do this by asking for three volunteers to come up and in three minutes categorize the photos the way they see it. The facilitators can use a negative poll with the group to see if the group is ok with the categories (e.g., asking “Does anyone not agree with this categorization of the photos?”) Possible Discussion Questions
- Can you tell me about the story behind your photograph?
- What was going through your mind when you took this photograph?
- Can you tell me how your photograph captures the themes of the assessment?
- If the picture is a fantasy or positive vision of the future, what is blocking this dream from becoming a reality (Lyrintzis 2010)?
There are a relatively a small number of items and materials need to effectively facilitate a Photovoice session. You would need to create, assemble, or precure the items below:
- Digital Camera or Smart Phone for image capturing. (Depending on the group you may be able to ask the participants to use their own smart phones. If the group is having financial hardship you might want to investigate providing digital cameras.)
- Consent Form and Permission Documentation (For younger participants)
- Photovoice Outline with timeline, process, and photo prompts
- Example photo description and photo
- Photography best practices tips for participants
It is recommended that you compensate participants for their labor and contributions. Capturing the data for your report or study warrants compensation to the participants who are helping to generate the data. Compensation may look like a gift card or stipend.
A Photovoice project should culminate in an exhibit where participants can showcase their work and tell their story to the community and decision-makers. It is the facilitators’ responsibility to help participants identify relevant stakeholders to invite, and to help organize a venue to display the participants’ work.
Facilitators should ensure that the final exhibit is inclusive (e.g., all participants have photographs on display, a wide range of topics and views are represented), that photos selected are appropriate for public display, and that written consent has been obtained for all photographed subjects included in the exhibit.
A 2013 Photovoice project was funded by the Middlesex Community Transformation Grant, a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) grant aimed at tackling the root causes of chronic illness. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health awarded Middlesex communities funding to pilot Photovoice projects the summer of 2013. The grant provided enough funding to give digital cameras and part-time salaries to each youth auditor participating in the project.
The City of Somerville worked with MAPC complete a Photovoice project, in which youth conducted a “safety audit” by photographing areas of blight across the city as a means of bringing change to the community. Their photos were exhibited in Somerville City Hall and posted in a public web gallery with captions describing the causes and effects of the unsafe environments captured on film.
Everett’s Police Department, Everett’s Community Health Partnership Substance Abuse Coalition, and Energize Everett were able engage local youth on Everett’s Photovoice project. The youth were able to share their images and narratives for the Photovoice project at a community safety project on Sept. 21, 2013 and were able to explore ideas for working together with community partners to help improve safety in Everett. Youth photos were also made available online and displayed in the Connolly Center in Everett after the event.
The Cambridge Police Department worked with local teens as Photovoice participants. The teens went out into the community, forging relationships and connecting with other residents. They compiled all their photographs and then sorted them into themes: crime, homelessness, maintenance, health, and positive prevention. Each theme was presented in terms of problems to be solved, and potential solutions. Learn more here!
ADVICE FOR SUCCESS
Photovoice is a worthwhile way to conduct research and try to positively impact the lives of people who are being researched. Photovoice brings participants into the process and practice of collecting data to impact their community.
Photovoice is able to leverage the impact of images on a general audience. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words; Photovoice works to demonstrate this philosophy. Through using images that are accompanied with community narratives, Photovoice allows researchers to add valuable and persuadable human perspective to issues they are examining.
Advice for Success
- Provide stipends or other monetary compensation for participation.
- Ensure photos and narratives have both a physical presence and online presence at the end of a project.
- Connect with photography practitioners to provide training and support to project participants.
- Provide training to participants around the project, Photovoice methodology, photography, and other relevant content.
- Have participants visit a Photovoice exhibit in person or online to get an understanding of the process and high-quality products.
- Make sure that local decision makers are aware of your Photovoice project and can attend the projects exhibits and access the photos online.
- Clearly communicate participants profiles at the projects exhibit. It is important to acknowledge the contributions of participants and to elevate their position in the community.
- Rutgers and The Youth Empowerment Alliance Photovoice Manual A Photovoice guide that shares easy to use project checklist templates. The guide also has Photovoice training and workshop templates and curriculum.
- Altering the Photovoice methodology for Social Distancing and COVID-19: A blog post that can support Photovoice projects who are currently dealing with the COVID-19 public health emergency or who hope to make project adjustments that allow for social distancing.
- United for Prevention in Passaic County’s Facilitator’s Toolkit: A Photovoice facilitators guide and resource that can support new Photovoice projects looking for templates, curriculum, and formatting.
- Photovoice: A UK-based organization focused around sharing Photovoice strategies and photography best practices that is trying to create positive social change using Photovoice globally. They distribute trainings, blog posts, photography best practices, and aggregate examples of Photovoice projects. They hope to share Photovoice knowledge with marginalized communities and those seeking to make a positive change.
- Adobe Youth Voices:An online resource that provides a platform for underserved young people around the world to understand 21st-century skills around photography utilizing media tools and how to communicate using digital technology. A source for funding and best practice connected to Photovoice Projects.
- Photovoices International: An international organization that provides programs and resources to develop photography skills of individuals interested in utilizing Photovoice. They share best practices and curriculum that can be utilized at different organizations and on different projects.
- Barefoot Workshops: An organization that focuses on providing multimedia training and resources. They wish to support those trying to document social issues to make a positive difference in the world. They are a great resource for Photovoice projects inspiration and overall photography knowledge.
- The Center for Digital Storytelling: An international organization focused around digital storytelling and photography. They support individuals and organizations around the use of using digital media tools and artistic expression.
- Photovoice Worldwide LLC: An international organization focused around the dissemination of the Photovoice methodology, best practices, trainings, and resources that can be utilized by individuals and organizations.
- Let Me Show You What Keeps Me From Being Healthy An NPR news segment that focuses on an individual sharing their perspectives utilizing Photovoice to demonstrate barriers to health equity. A great example of for a voice highlighting community issues and how Photovoice projects are connecting to larger media organizations.
- The AjA Project: A California project and organization that serves as a platform for young people to utilize their photography skills to impact their community in a positive way. A great website for inspiration and understanding of how to work with youth on the topic of photography.
- Photovoice Website: One of the original platforms disseminating the Photovoice methodology and best practices. This website was prepared by Carolyn Wayne, the main thought leader behind Photovoice.
- Photovoice Kit: A website that allows individuals and organizations to find web-based tools to support Photovoice projects. They also share strategy around photo exhibits, photovoice dialogue sessions, and social action curriculum.
- Photo Sharing Platform (Flickr): One of the most well-known websites for sharing photos with the public. The website can be both a private file sharing platform and a public facing photo sharing platform.
- Photo Sharing Platform: (Google Photos or Google Drive) Both a cloud-based photo sharing platform that can allow for collaboration and sharing of pictures with project participants.
- Photo Sharing Platform: (Instagram and Facebook) Both well-known and highly used photo sharing social media platforms that can be utilized for publicly sharing photos with a large group of stakeholders. They have an easy to understand interface and they have large mass adoption which makes the platforms an easy option to share photos with the public.
- Photo Sharing Platform: (iCloud) A familiar file sharing platform that allows sharing photos. Easily integrates with many users' phones that might be used for taking pictures for projects. Can also be utilized by non-Apple users with some small alterations.
- Photo Sharing Platform: (Dropbox) A widely known and used cloud storage service that can be utilized for sharing and uploading photos. Easily understood by many and able to be integrated with many devices.
- Photo Sharing Platform: (OneDrive) Microsoft’s cloud storage system that allows for photo sharing and storage that can easily be accessed by many different devices.
- Photo editing software: (GIMP) A free online photo editing platform that can be utilized to crop and alter images. Relatively easy to use and understood by many users.
- Photo editing Software: (Canva) An online photo editing platform that allows users to manipulate images, adding text, and other graphic design features.
- Photo editing Software: (Pixlr) An online photo editing software that can be easily understood by many users and accessed anywhere. Allows for quick cropping and alterations of images.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Community Health. "Photovoice Training." Evaluation Training. Atlanta. 2012.
Evans-Agnew, R. A., & Rosemberg, M. A. S. (2016). Questioning photovoice research: whose voice?. Qualitative Health Research, 26(8), 1019-1030.
Hamilton Community Foundation, comp. Photovoice Hamilton: Manual and Resource Kit. Rep. N.p.: n.p., 2007.
Lyrintzis, Maria. "Photovoice: Social Change Through Photography." Comp. John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. 2010.
Strack, Robert W., Cathleen Magill, and Kara McDonagh. "Engaging Youth through Photovoice." Health Promotion Practice 5.1 (2004): 49-58.
Wang, C., and M. A. Burris. "Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment." Health Education & Behavior 24.3 (1997): 369-87.
Wang, C. C., and Y. A. Redwood-Jones. "Photovoice Ethics: Perspectives from Flint Photovoice." Health Education & Behavior 28.5 (2001): 560-72.
Wang, Caroline. "Youth Participation in Photovoice as a Strategy for Community Change." Journal of Community Practice 14.1 (2006): 147-61.
Wang, C. C., Yi, W. K., Tao, Z. W., & Carovano, K. (1998). Photovoice as a participatory health promotion strategy. Health promotion international, 13(1), 75-86.