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  • What is Photovoice?

  • Why should you use Photovoice?

  • Who should use Photovoice?

  • When might you use Photovoice?

  • How do you use Photovoice?

Staff members of Shelter from the Storm, an organization that serves homeless youth, felt that two things were needed: helping youth experiencing homelessness find a voice; and helping the community better understand these youth and their needs.

After much discussion, the shelter staff decided to start a Photovoice project. They supplied a group of homeless youth with disposable cameras, oriented them – with the help of a volunteer news photographer – to the mechanics, art, and ethics of documentary photography, and asked them describe their day-to-day experience through photos. Two weeks later, the cameras were collected and the pictures developed.

Ultimately, the photos were exhibited in the community, captioned by the young photographers. One result of the enhanced awareness among local elected officials, as well as the general public, was policy change that provided enhanced services for homeless youth and family intervention programs to try to prevent youth from becoming homeless. The kids’ view of themselves and their aspirations also changed.

In this section, we’ll describe the Photovoice process, the populations that it might benefit most, and how it can be used to help people make their voices heard and change their situations.

What is Photovoice?

Photovoice is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.

The concept has existed for many years, but much of the theoretical background of current programs comes from the work of Caroline Wang. In 1992, Wang and Mary Ann Burris developed Photovoice based on a combination of Paulo Freire’s notion of “critical consciousness” (a deep understanding of the way the world works and how society, politics, and power relationships affect one’s own situation); feminist theory, which emphasizes the importance of voice; and documentary photography, which is often used to help bring about social change.

Wang and Burris gave cameras to a group of rural village women in Yunnan Province in China, who documented their lives and environment for an entire year. Groups of women gathered at regular intervals to view and discuss the pictures they took. At the end of the project, the group hosted an exhibition of their photographs, and used it to raise the consciousness of the general public and of policy makers about their needs. The women had gained a voice, greater self-respect, and a sense of increased control over their lives. Wang, now a professor at the University of Michigan, became a founding mother of Photovoice.

Wang defines five key concepts for Photovoice in Photovoice: A Participatory Action Research Strategy Applied to Women’s Health, a 1999 article in the Journal of Women’s Health.

These five concepts include:

  • Images teach
  • Pictures can influence policy
  • Community members ought to participate in creating and defining the images that shape healthful public policy
  • The process requires that from the outset planners bring policy makers and other influential people to the table to serve as an audience
  • Photovoice emphasizes individual and community action

The Photovoice technique has been used in many countries with people including youth in difficult circumstances, people with disabilities and particular medical conditions (e.g., tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS), the very poor, groups subject to violence, and with many others whose experiences are unknown or seemingly ignored by the community and by those in power.

A well-known example of the use of Photovoice can be seen in the film “Born into Brothels,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2005. Photographer Zana Briski, in the course of documenting the lives of sex workers and their children in the red light district of Calcutta, decided to give several of the children cameras and ask them to document their world. Their sensitive and often striking photos, and the film that resulted from them, gave rise to Kids With Cameras and Kids With Destiny which continues Briski’s work, and has opened the doors to a new life for many of the children involved.

Photovoice has three main goals:

  • To help those who are often unheard gain a voice, enabling them to record and reflect on their experiences and their communities’ conditions, both positive and negative.
  • To encourage critical consciousness. Through choosing, discussing, and reflecting on the subjects of their photographs, the photographers can come to a clearer understanding of their circumstances and the economic, social, psychological, and political forces that shape them.
  • To bring about change that will improve conditions and enhance lives by reaching and influencing policy makers.

The term “critical consciousness” comes from the work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Freire’s use of the term refers to the process of those who are oppressed using critical thinking about their own situations. Analyzing the forces shaping their circumstances is a first step toward bringing about change.

In order to achieve these goals, it’s important to understand that Photovoice entails much more than just handing people cameras and sending them out to take pictures or video. The photographers start by learning the basics of camera use and discussing safe and ethical documentary practices. In most cases, they meet regularly in a facilitated group (often jointly led by a photographer and a counselor or other human service worker) to show and discuss the images they’ve taken, and to be able to state opinions and feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Other possible elements of a Photovoice program are discussed in the how-to part of this section. A Photovoice project or program can be an inexpensive and powerful tool for both life change and social change, but it needs to be planned and executed with a good deal of thought.

Since Photovoice is essentially a type of participatory action research, it can also be used as a qualitative research method, as an assessment tool, as a way of gathering data, and as an evaluation tool. A Photovoice project can be freestanding, but is more often – and probably more effectively – run in collaboration with an existing group or coalition.

Why should you use Photovoice?

There are a number of reasons why Photovoice can be a particularly powerful way to approach empowerment and advocacy.

  • The rewards of taking photographs are immediate. A camera, especially a digital one, produces nearly instant results, thereby encouraging participants to continue.
  • Photography is fun and creative. Often, survival is the main focus of people living in difficult circumstances. The opportunity to create art can be a powerful and fulfilling experience, and can lead to viewing oneself in a different and more positive light. In addition, for many people, it opens the door to talent they didn’t know they had.
  • Taking photographs or videos of familiar scenes and people can change participants’ perceptions about their social and physical environment. When they’re forced to think about how they want to picture the scenes they’re recording, participants themselves may start to see those scenes differently and to think about alternatives in new ways.
  • Basic photography is easy to learn and accessible to almost everyone. Anyone who can see and hold a camera, from children as young as four or five, to people with disabilities, to seniors, can take pictures. They may not be artistically excellent, but they will tell a story. Even those who can’t see or hold a camera can participate with the help of someone who can, by indicating what they want pictured.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words.” Seeing what someone else sees is more powerful than being told about it. Effective advocacy conveys a need for change, and photos or videos can almost always make a far better case than words alone.
  • Images can be understood regardless of language, culture, or other factors.
  • Policy makers can’t deny reality when it’s staring them in the face. It is often easy for policy makers to assume – or to claim – that anyone with a need or problem is exaggerating it. When faced with photos or videos of actual conditions, they have to acknowledge reality.

For instance, the article Photovoice in the Workplace: A Participatory Method to Give Voice to Workers to Identify Health and Safety Hazards and Promote Workplace Change, details how Photovoice was used in a workplace with extremely high injury and incidents rates. The project was used to promote improved conditions and reduced hazards for university custodians.

The custodians participated in a Photovoice project to identify, categorize, and prioritize occupational hazards and to discuss and propose solutions to these problems. Results were presented to management and to all custodians for further discussion. The effort was led by a worker-based union-sponsored participatory evaluation team in partnership with a university researcher.

Visual depiction of hazardous tasks and exposures focused primarily on improper or unsafe equipment, awkward postures, lifting hazards, and electrical hazards. The process of taking and presenting pictures created an ongoing discussion among workers and management regarding the need for improvements, and resulted in greater interest and activity regarding occupational health among the workers. In a follow-up evaluation 1-year later, a number of hazards identified through Photovoice had been corrected. Injury rates for custodians had decreased from 39% to 26%.

  • Pictures can be used to hold policy makers and others accountable by creating a clear record of what exists at a particular point in time.
  • Photography and video provide a means for empowerment without requiring people to stand up and speak in public.

Who should use Photovoice?

The main goal of Photovoice is to help people whose needs – and sometimes whose very existence – are often ignored gain some sense of control over their lives. We’ll list some examples of both population groups and organizations that might be able to use Photovoice to their advantage. (Neither list is meant to be complete.)

People whom Photovoice can help to empower:

  • Children and youth in difficult circumstances. These might include orphans and the homeless, children forced to work rather than go to school, children and youth living under the threat of violence because of war or crime, those who are being or have been abused, or simply those who see a problem – destruction of the natural environment, for example – that they want to help to solve.
  • Homeless adults and families.
  • People with physical and mental disabilities or mental health issues.
  • People with chronic diseases or medical conditions – tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease.
  • Members of racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural minorities. Members of these groups may be discriminated against, or they may simply want to share elements of their culture and lives with the majority.
  • People whose way of life is threatened. The Southern West Virginia Photovoice Project involves women documenting their communities, their way of life, and what’s happened to them as a result of mountaintop removal coal mining.
  • People who are discriminated against because of class, caste, way of life (as in “Born Into Brothels”), or poverty.
  • The rural poor, whose concerns and strengths are often different from those of the larger society, particularly in developed or fast-developing countries, such as China and Brazil.

Types of organizations that could benefit from using Photovoice with participants:

  • Schools and other organizations that work with children and youth.
  • Orphanages, group houses, homeless shelters, and other living situations for those who need care.
  • Organizations that work with people whose needs and humanity are commonly ignored.
  • Community health centers and similar health providers.
  • Organizations that serve people with physical and mental disabilities or mental health issues.
  • Advocacy organizations or health and human service organizations that include advocacy in their mission.
  • International aid and refugee organizations.

When might you use Photovoice?

  • When Photovoice can change people’s opinions about themselves and their environment. Participants may or may not be able to influence policy makers, but they can begin to see themselves as acting rather than acted upon. When the participants are members of a population that has traditionally been powerless – rural villagers in some developing countries, people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – the Photovoice experience can change their perspectives and goals in ways that make it possible for them to improve their lives with or without policy change.
    • Although Photovoice might be used at any time to help people form and express their opinions, better understand their situations, and develop their sense of self-worth, it serves these ends best when it is meant to lead to action and change. Thus, the best times to conduct a Photovoice project are those when it is likely to have a real impact on the issues that participants highlight in their pictures or videos.
  • When a group’s situation needs to be publicized. Groups here might range from people in refugee camps in war-torn regions of the developing world to homeless adults on the streets of New York. Photovoice might be particularly relevant in the case of people whose plight is largely unknown outside the local area.
  • When a problem needs to be publicized. The pollution of a once-pristine river, trash littering a neighborhood because of erratic garbage collection, substandard housing – these are all problems that can be highlighted by photos taken by those who live with them.
  • When change is necessary, and Photovoice can help inform policy makers. Pictures taken by children of their crumbling or nonexistent school buildings (classes being held under a tent or in a field, with no books, pencils, or blackboards) may be more effective in reaching policy makers than the entreaties of their parents for adequate schools.
  • When a community assessment is needed or in progress. Community members participating in a Photovoice project know their community and its needs and assets far better than outsiders. Their photos or videos can document community conditions and play a major role in conducting an assessment that speaks to the local assets and needs of the population.
  • When you need to document the process of or gather data for an evaluation of an intervention or program. Photovoice participants can picture results, record interviews, demonstrate their own opinions about the intervention, etc.
  • When you need to hold policy makers or others accountable. A dated photograph showing the cracked and broken street that a politician promised to have fixed a year ago, the substandard housing that a court ordered the landlord to bring up to code by a long-missed deadline, or the illegally cramped and unventilated workshop in which children work at difficult jobs for 12 or more hours a day can help to hold the people in charge responsible and to instigate change.
  • When you need to document a site, an event, or a way of life that is threatened or about to disappear.

Hutong to Highrise is a Photovoice project that documents the resistance of hutong dwellers in Beijing to the destruction of their neighborhoods. Hutongs are the narrow lanes bordered by courtyard houses which make up neighborhoods that are essentially villages within the city. Some families of hutong dwellers have lived in their houses for many generations. Being relocated to highrise apartment buildings where they know no other tenants leaves them without the social networks and supports that have enriched their lives. They have documented their way of life and their surroundings, as well as the demolition of the neighborhoods they cherished.

How do you use Photovoice?

A note about video:

We’ve mentioned several times that a Photovoice project might involve video. Because that requires greater resources and raises more complex questions than a photography-based project, we’ve chosen here to deal primarily with photography. Most of what’s in this section applies to photo as well as video, but there are exceptions. Video is often shot in teams, and requires differences in training, discussion, and execution. Editing becomes much more important with video, and a video camera may also raise even more safety questions – safety of the equipment as well as safety of the photographer. In general, however, the how-to guide below is one that could be followed for a video as well as a photography project.

Photovoice projects can take many different forms and work with people from many different backgrounds and circumstances.

Some general guidelines can help make these projects a success.

  • Photovoice should be a participatory, collaborative process from the beginning. That means that participants – the community photographers – should be part of the planning as well as the planning and implementation of the project.
  • Participants and staff need training. Depending on the population from which they come, participants in some projects might never have used a camera before, while those in others might be quite comfortable with one. In either case, they should be trained in the basic techniques of documentary photography and the use of the equipment. They should also receive some grounding in photographic ethics and in keeping themselves safe while photographing. At the same time, the staff of the sponsoring organization needs training in the same areas as the participants, and in anticipating and handling situations that might arise from the process. Photographs can have an emotional as well as a documentary and aesthetic content, both for those who take them and for others in the group. In addition, photographers might be threatened or faced with arrest or physical danger, or might tread on ethically questionable ground. Staff must be prepared to deal with all of these possibilities to protect both the emotional and physical health of participants and the integrity of the project.
  • Participants need support. Participants must have the chance to show and discuss their photos. They need a safe and supportive environment in which they can learn a new skill and gain confidence in their ability to express opinions and ideas.
  • The project should result in some action. Action can mean a number of things, from a show of photos within the organization, to the making of a theatrical film like “Born into Brothels,” to participants’ visits to policy makers, to the start of an initiative to deal with the conditions documented by the photos or videos from the project. Participants should have the chance to see their photos used in a positive and significant way.

Putting together a Photovoice project

So…how might you put together a Photovoice project? A typical project might develop along these lines:

Recruit participants, at least one mentor/facilitator, and staff/volunteers

If you’re starting with an existing group – a classroom, a youth group, a micro-loan borrowers’ support group, etc. – recruitment may simply be a matter of presenting the possibility and discussing it with the group. It is important that group members should have the option of declining participation.

If there’s not a formal, existing group, recruitment may be one-by-one, and may depend on outreach or street workers, agency or NGO staff members, or on word of mouth by early recruits and/or a few influential individuals – clergy, teachers, health workers, or community activists. It might involve community meetings, gatherings in people’s homes, or visits to meetings of other existing groups.

It’s important at the time of participant recruitment to explain the purpose of the project and to make clear, if it’s true, that there will be an exhibition of photos at the end. (See “Exhibit,” below.) It may be appropriate to ask participants to sign a release stating that they keep the copyrights to any photos they take, and that they understand the conditions of the project, will return cameras, and will allow their photos to be part of an exhibition with the option of remaining anonymous.

While a mentor/facilitator is not a given (nor is the fact that the mentor and facilitator must be the same person), the presence of someone with both technical expertise and a desire to address the concerns of the population in question can be extremely helpful. In the case of a school program, this role might be taken by a classroom teacher with an interest in photography; in an NGO, it may be assumed by a staff member. In many cases, the mentor role might be filled by a volunteer professional (or serious amateur) photographer.

The mentor/facilitator’s role is to work with participants on technical issues, to help them learn how to express themselves on film, and to facilitate groups where pictures are shown and discussed. This person may also provide emotional support, as well as information about photography in general and encouragement and further instruction for those who want it. In some projects, one or more staff members may assume this role, share it as co-facilitator with a professional photographer, or refer to a photographer as a consultant/advisor or occasional guest.

Staff members or volunteers of an organization, agency, or institution may act as facilitators, as resources, or may actually conduct most aspects of the project. It’s important that, regardless of whether these people are volunteers or professionals, they have the necessary skills –interpersonal, technical, administrative, etc. – as well as a belief in and desire to be involved with the Photovoice process.

Plan the project with the community or group you’re working with

A planning group should include at least some of the participants you’ve recruited. If the participant group is relatively small, and the number of staff or volunteers is as well, it might include everyone involved. If it’s large, and there are several staff members and/or volunteers involved, the planning group should include the mentor/facilitator (or both mentor and facilitator if they’re different people), representation from the participant group, staff and volunteers who’ll work on the project, and at least one person (perhaps already included among those mentioned) who has knowledge of the organization’s budget and real or potential resources for the project.

It is often difficult to say whether recruitment or planning comes first. A project can be planned with representatives of the group or community from which participants will come, with the understanding that some or all of these people may want to participate along with others recruited later. The same is true for staff and volunteers. Probably the one exception here is the mentor/facilitator, who should be involved from the very beginning.

The ideal is probably that recruitment should come first, so that the participatory planning process is just that. This isn’t always possible, however, and how it actually works out in a given situation will often depend on such factors as the availability of funding and the time schedule of a volunteer mentor. In any case, the planning process should be as participatory as possible so that it will be owned by the participants, staff, and volunteers who take part in the project.

Another consideration here is whether to involve community officials or policy makers in the project from the beginning, perhaps as sponsors or even in a more active role. In such a case, consider carefully whether the advantages outweigh potential disadvantages.

Train participants, staff, and/or volunteers

Training for participants:

  • Technical training. This should include use of the camera equipment and the techniques of photography. This may include operating the camera, composition, how to adjust for light conditions using film and shutter speed and other techniques, the use of a flash, editing (digitally or otherwise), how to shoot moving subjects, etc. This training would probably be conducted by either the mentor/facilitator or another person with a good knowledge of photography.
  • Training in ethical and safe photography in various situations. Shooting on the street or throughout a city or other area, as is the case with many projects, participants may find themselves in situations where they may be catching subjects in private, embarrassing, or illegal behavior. When is it ethical to take such photos? How do you ask permission to take a photo? Should you ask subjects to sign a release form? Should you offer them a copy of the picture? How do you react if the subject refuses? Furthermore, how do you protect yourself in dangerous situations, where people may be engaged in illegal activity or may be aggressive? Just carrying a camera may be enough to put a participant in danger. Again, this training is best conducted by the mentor/facilitator or someone else experienced in the field.

A full discussion of ethics and safety is beyond the scope of this section. Some useful resources in this area are a chapter on Photovoice in a guidebook from the Innovation Center, which also includes an outline of a Photovoice project and forms for various elements of it, including a subject release form; and the Photovoice UK statement of ethical practice.

  • Group-building and training in working in a group. If you’re working with children or youth or with others with little experience in meetings and groups, it will make the project go more smoothly if you offer support in that area. Setting ground rules, making clear why ground rules are necessary, emphasizing the collaborative nature of group activity, structuring the group as a mutually supportive team, teaching listening skills, and engaging in group-building exercises can all serve to make working in a group easier for those with little experience with it.

Training for staff and/or volunteers:

  • A project involving 10 or 12 children in a classroom might be effectively run by one teacher with an interest in photography. A larger project may need a number of professional and/or volunteer staff, depending on project funding and the nature of the sponsoring organization or institution. Unless they’re already well versed in photography, group leadership, and counseling, they’ll need some basic training in all of those areas, as well as a version of the training in ethics and safety. If there’s a photographer involved, staff members may not need more technical skills than participants. Staff members should have some skills that allow them to handle emotional reactions that arise for participants as a result of the photos and discussion of them, or as a result of incidents that occur in the course of the project.
  • Perhaps most important, staff members, whether professional or volunteer, should understand the structure and the aims of the project. For a Photovoice project to be successful in helping participants gain a voice, participants have to do both the documentary and the emotional work themselves. That means that staff members must be able to encourage and support participants throughout their involvement without doing things for them.

Get out and take pictures

The best way to learn photography is to practice it and get feedback. Once participants have the basic knowledge they need, the next step is for them to begin to take pictures of whatever seems to them to explain or reflect the chosen topic(s).

Two important considerations that should be worked out during planning are time and equipment. The photography phase of a Photovoice project can last as little as a week or two or as long as a year or more. (Caroline Wang’s original project with the farm women in Yunnan was a year long.) Deciding on a length of time may depend on resources, on the situation of the participants, on other needs of the organization, etc.

The equipment question is partially a financial one. Disposable cameras, complete with film processing (most disposable cameras still use film), are inexpensive, but they only allow a limited number of pictures – generally fewer than 30. Low-end digital cameras, while relatively inexpensive, nonetheless are about five times the cost of a disposable camera. On the other hand, they have the capacity to take an infinite number of pictures, because pictures taken can be deleted, either because they’re unsatisfactory, or because they have been downloaded to a computer or storage device. Furthermore, if the project is to last a long time, the expense might come out even, or even be cheaper with digital cameras.

Disposable cameras are cheaper, but digital cameras are more flexible and forgiving. However, there is something to be said for limiting the number of shots beginning photographers can take, which requires them to be thoughtful about every shot.

These days, there are relatively low-cost devices, such as flip-cams, that capture high-definition video. These point-and-shoot devices are easy to use and can be a great way to capture and easily share footage.

Discuss/reflect/choose

During the photography phase, participants should meet regularly with a facilitator in a small group. This group might be composed of all participants if the project is small (a dozen or fewer participants), or with a subset of the participants if the project is larger.

In these groups, participants show their photographs and explain why they took them. They might discuss such topics as whether the scene evoked particular feelings for them, and how they think the pictures might be viewed by others. They can receive feedback from others in the group about how the pictures strike them, whether they bring up ideas or feelings, and whether a photo seems to make its point well.

The groups help participants reflect on what they and others have done, on the aesthetic and intellectual decisions they’ve made, and reach a new understanding that then becomes their base for the next round of photography (or for their next experience, if the photography phase is over). Reflection is often the most important part of both intellectual and personal development, and the opportunity for reflection is absolutely critical.

The group discussion is also an opportunity for each participant, with help from the group, to choose the pictures of hers that can best be used to influence policy makers and the public. If the pictures from the project are meant to bring about change, they have to have a strong effect on those who see them. The group and facilitator can supportively help each participant understand which of her pictures are most likely to do that and why. As the project progresses and participants gain self-confidence and skill, some previously chosen photos may be discarded in favor of ones that do the job better. The goal is to have, at the end of the photography phase, a group of photographs that can be used to make a powerful statement about the chosen issues or conditions.

Part of this choosing process might be writing captions for the selected photos. The photographers, depending on their age and level of sophistication, might explain why they chose the subject, the context in which they shot it, the intent of the picture, how it made them feel, its strong connection to the issue, etc. The captions are important for the next phase of the project.

Exhibit

As mentioned briefly above, at the end of the project (or the end of the involvement of a particular group of participants, if the project is ongoing) there should be an exhibition of photographs. The participants have produced a body of work: if it’s never seen by anyone else, they have only tapped one part of its potential. An exhibition will accomplish several purposes:

  • It will demonstrate that their work is valuable enough to show
  • It will provide a window in to conditions, lives, or issues for people
  • It can raise public consciousness about the issue, and can lead to change and improvement
  • It functions as a celebration of the achievements, learning, and increased consciousness and self-respect of the participants

In order to avoid hurt feelings and to acknowledge the work of all participants, each should have the same number of photographs displayed. Each participant’s work might be displayed separately, or another organizing principle, such as theme, might be used. Participants should have the option of remaining anonymous, especially if they fear that they might be attacked – physically or otherwise – because of their work.

Whether or not they’ve been informed or involved before, it’s generally a good idea to engage officials, policy makers, and the press as well as the general public in the exhibition. You may want to stage a grand opening, announced by a press release, public service announcement (PSA), and/or press conference, to which you specifically invite officials and media outlets. The media may do a story on the exhibit or on the project and participants, so it’s a good idea to have participants who agree to be interviewed or profiled prepared for this beforehand.

You can also create your own media by using the Web to get the word out about the exhibit. Both the organization’s website and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be used to attract people. In addition, the photos or videos can be posted online on websites or on sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube.

It may also make sense to have a pre-opening just for participants and their families and friends, so that they can celebrate their accomplishment with one another and those they care about.

Take action

As mentioned above, the exhibit may be just the beginning. Some possibilities for other forms of action:

  • Creation of an action plan involving PhotoVoice participants and others who care in the community.
  • Meetings with legislators, commissioners, ministers, bureaucrats, CEOs, or other policy makers about the issue in question.
  • A letter-writing campaign (perhaps including copies of some or all of the photos.)
  • A media campaign, featuring some of the participants and their stories, as well as their photographs.
  • The founding of an initiative to change the conditions that the project focused on.
  • Participants might become active in other causes or in existing organizations that work for change.
  • Some sort of direct action – a demonstration, a boycott, a picket line, etc.
  • Some participants might be involved as mentors in the next round of the project.

Films – like “Born Into Brothels” – or touring exhibits can be very effective at introducing the issue and participants to a larger public, but they also require resources that are beyond the reach of most organizations. A much more feasible option is posting photos to a Flickr page or YouTube video. There are many Flickr pages and videos of Photovoice projects, some very powerful, some viewed by thousands of people.

Follow up

Depending on its resources, the organization might continue to work with participants, helping them to build on the technical and personal skills they have developed to change direction in their lives. That might mean anything from career counseling to ongoing involvement in photography to help getting a scholarship or loan to continue with schooling.

Additionally, following up with an action phase and carrying through plans developed after the Photovoice part of the initiative is critical to obtaining lasting change and improvement.

Evaluate

As with any project, it’s crucial to monitor and evaluate both the process and the results of the Photovoice experience. For that to be done properly, evaluation questions should be clearly identified. Some of the many possible evaluation questions might include:

  • What is the most effective recruitment method for participants? For staff and volunteers?
  • Did participants gain new skills?
  • Was the training adequate and effective?
  • Did the work of participants contribute to a better understanding of the issue for the organization and/or the community?
  • Did the project lead to continued action on the chosen issue?
  • Did the project lead to changes in conditions in the community?
  • Were policy makers influenced to bring about change?
  • Was the project sustained over time?

Participants should be part of the evaluation team, and should be encouraged to contribute to development of the evaluation questions, as well as to reflect upon the evaluation questions to guide their efforts throughout the project. The evaluation then becomes, as it should, part of the project itself. Evaluation results can be used to improve the way the organization uses Photovoice, as well as the way project results can be used to bring about change.

Do it again

If there is energy around the project and more work to be done, the group may consider whether it may be helpful to sustain the Photovoice project, involving new generations of participants.

In Summary

Photovoice is a technique by which the taking of photographs or videos – usually by people who are disadvantaged, ignored, and/or discriminated against – becomes a means of both self-expression and personal and intellectual growth. In addition, participants essentially function as participatory action researchers, documenting conditions and problems in ways that can be used for community assessment and as a spur to policy makers and other officials to institute community change.

Contributor 
Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Photovoice: A Participatory Action Research Strategy Applied to Women's Health. Caroline Wang. Journal of Women’s Health, vol. 8. no.2, pp. 185-192, 1999.

Photovoice Resources from Community-Campus Partnerships for Health provides a multitude of Photovoice resources on facilitator training.

South Park Photovoice on flickr. From the South Park branch of the Seattle, Washington Public Library.

YAC Photovoice on flickr.

Using Photovoice to Understand Cardiovascular Health Awareness in Asian Elders. Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Lesley E. Steinman, Shin-Ping Tu, Kiet A. Ly, Thanh G. N. Ton, Mei-Po Yip, and Mo-Kyung Sin.
Participants of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean ethnicity were provided disposable cameras to photograph their perceptions of scenes promoting or acting as barriers to cardiovascular health. Photovoice provided insight into perceptions of cardiovascular health that is vital for developing health promotion and education interventions in limited-English-speaking communities.

Kids with Cameras / Kids with Destiny is an organization founded by Zana Briski, the photographer involved in the film “Born Into Brothels.” It works with street children in Calcutta.

Photovoice provides an explanation of the process, from the Photovoice website prepared by Caroline Wang

Photovoice UK provides resources on conducting a Photovoice process, including a Statement of Ethical Practice and Photovoice Slideshows.

Photovoice Activity is a guide for using Photovoice in a specific way. (KLCC is the Kellogg Foundation’s Kellogg Leadership for Community Change initiative.)

Witness is a nonprofit founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel. It trains activists and human rights organizations to video evidence of human rights abuses and uses the videos to bring perpetrators to light and to justice and to empower people to tell their stories.

Southern West Virgina Photovoice Project shows women documenting their communities, their way of life, and what’s happened to them as a result of mountaintop removal coal mining.

The Photovoice Process – The Photovoice Hamilton (Ont.) Youth Project

Photovoice: Picturing Our Places is an example of a Photovoice project from an elementary school in Toronto, Canada.

Photovoice Project from University of Michigan shows teens documenting their public health concerns.

School Community Food Assessment: A Step-by-Step Toolkit to Achieve Consensus Among School Staff, Students and Parents for Healthful Food & Beverages at School aims to assist school communities and the families they serve to improve awareness about healthful food and provide programs that empower adults and children to prepare snacks and meals using fresh ingredients. Part Three of the toolkit is an in-depth description of how to effectively use Photovoice to get the buy-in of staff, students, and parents in order to make new policies a reality.

Josh Schachter Photography Teaching Resources has a wide variety of useful resources for those looking to begin a Photovoice or other media-centered project in their community. It offers an extensive list of Community-Based Media and Storytelling Organizations that have conducted projects all across the globe.

Dexter Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking and Pinckney Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking are Photovoice presentations facilitated by the Dexter Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, a community coalition in Washtenaw, Michigan. They also provide the preparatory documents for the project, which include a Recruitment Flyer, Group Agreement, Introduction to Photovoice, Photovoice Ethics, Consent Table, Youth Assent Form, Parent Consent Form, Photo Consent Form, Agenda, Timeline, and Exhibit Agenda/Discussion Questions.