“COVID Summer!”: My first experience with photovoice as a virtual youth activity

by Stephanie Lloyd

About me
Although I currently reside in San Francisco, I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio. As a child, I enjoyed “setting up scenes” and taking pictures with a Polaroid camera. In middle school, my parents gave me my first SLR camera and enrolled me in a Black and White Darkroom photography course, and I’ve been taking pictures and developing film as a hobby ever since. After undergrad, I served with AmeriCorps, providing in-school support and after school programming to youth in D.C. During graduate school is when I first heard about photovoice from the amazing Maria Paiewonsky, who hosted a “lunch and learn” about using photovoice for her dissertation at the Institute for Community Inclusion in Boston, and then generously setup a time to talk with me further afterwards. I could not believe that my two loves – data and photography – could combine to form a methodology that provides an opportunity for underrepresented populations to have a say, develop new skills and power, and advocate for social change. Throughout my career, I’ve worked to include photovoice in evaluation and research projects in any way I can. All these experiences have led me to my favorite part of 2020!

This past spring, I dreamed up a vision where youth could have the opportunity to do something a little different (during this definitely different summer). It was a hypothetical dream until a couple colleagues told me to put it on paper so we could recruit parents. And thus, Young Changemakers with a Camera: Photovoice 2020 was created!

This is a waterfall called lower falls. It’s coming down from a swimming hole called the “devil’s bathtub”. Legend is that if you fall into the “devil’s bathtub” it will take you to the underworld. It’s actually only 7 feet deep. I didn’t fall into it, but they’ve done research. It’s supposed to be nearly impossible to escape it. It’s located down in Hocking Hills. -Marin, youth participant

How did this work?
A friend living in Ohio spoke about the project with her group of Girl Scout moms, and then provided emails so I could share project information and consent forms to those who were interested. After both the parents and the girls had given consent, each family was given access to an individual Google Drive folder where I could add notes and materials after each session, and the participating girls could add photos and captions. Girls were given the option to borrow a phone, iPad, or other camera as long as the photos were digital and could be uploaded to Google Drive.

I took this photo to symbolize that since Lakewood is a walkable town you should choose to walk or ride a bike instead of driving. If a lot more people choose to walk it would cost you less money because you won’t be needing as much gas and it will be a lot better for the environment. We always walk because downtown Lakewood is right down the street, but I also know a lot of people who choose not to walk, even though they can choose to walk they don’t.-Alma, Youth Participant

On Tuesdays and Thursdays during August, the PhotovoiceWorldwide summer intern and I met five rising middle schoolers on Zoom at 9:30am ET (6:30am PT) to execute my vision! Although I didn’t call it the “COVID project,” the girls were instructed to take photos about their summer – What do you like? What do you want to do more of? What do you wish you could do?

I choose to take a picture of the pool because I like to go swimming. This is the family pool in the background. My sister and I and a few neighborhood friends like to swim together.

-Charlotte, youth participant

Sessions included:

  1. Welcome to photovoice & careful photo-taking
  2. Photo sharing & caption writing
  3. Creating categories
  4. Selecting photos & revising captions
  5. Gallery walk & presentation practice
  6. Exhibit, celebration & reflection

Between each session the girls had “action steps” to complete. These included: taking photos related to the prompts, writing captions, drawing pictures, practicing their “photo presentations” and uploading materials to the folder.

We take a lot more walks because we are in the middle of a pandemic. We saw this bunny and it has one ear. I don’t know why I took this photo, but it has one ear. This was on a walk with my family in the neighborhood. -Ellie, youth participant

In one of the later sessions, the group talked about how to make it easier for others to understand our photovoice project by somehow grouping the photos in a way that made sense, much like the way clothes are arranged at a store. The girls identified the following categories (or themes) in their photos:

  • People
  • Water
  • Plants, flowers, vegetables
  • Summer necessities
  • Things we do in a typical summer
  • Things we are doing more because of COVID!
  • Mechanics: Moving around the neighborhood

We went to the beach. It’s of a growing wave and I took it because I was trying to get my camera inside a wave that’s curling over. I wasn’t able to do that so I came out with this. I thought this looked kinda weird so I decide to include it. Also, the original photo had a bunch of sky and I cropped out a bunch. I tried to make it look like the wave was bigger than it actually was. -Eleanor, youth participant

A few things I learned…

  • Having an already established group participate and one parent contact was critical to easily setting up the dates/timing. It was also nice that the girls already knew each other and had good rapport. Since they had been in the same Girl Scout troop for a number of years, the girls were comfortable working together on this project, and enjoyed spending this time with their friends during a summer of isolation. When working virtually, it can be hard to monitor feelings, so the positive dynamic of the group helped keep us on track.
  • In the first session, one girl said: “I don’t understand what we are going to be doing?” My reply: “Excellent point!” I went on to explain that photovoice projects feel a little confusing at first because they are shaped by the participants. So, although I would be here for guidance and support, it was the group of girls who would take pictures, write captions, and decide on what to present at the end. I also reassured the group that we would have something to present at the end as long as everyone fully participated in each session and completed the “action steps” in between. All of the girls happily agreed to move forward and work together on the project, even if they were not exactly clear about every up front – it was like a puzzle we would solve together.
  • Zoom sessions can be lively—full of laughs and fun! When planning each session, I made sure to switch activities every five minutes or so and frequently request feedback from the group. We started each session with a warmup, stood and stretched in the middle, and spent as little time as possible with me presenting in a school-like manner. When I needed to share information, I made sure my slides included colorful pictures along with prompts for the girls to read aloud or questions to answer. The group enjoyed typing in the chat, presenting their photos, and going into Breakout Rooms to complete smaller group tasks. Although a parent reported back that there was a lot of silliness in her daughter’s Breakout Room, they always arrived back at the main session with their tasks completed and ready to present. These girls knew how to have fun while also staying on top of things! 
  • This was an amazing experience: to listen to girls explain how they felt, see photos showcasing their sense of social isolation, and hear about what they wished for. At this critical time in our world, it was refreshing to work with smart, caring, thoughtful young people who wanted to learn something new and share their ideas with others.

Do you have a group of youth who would enjoy learning how to use their voice? Contact us at info@photovoiceworldwide.com to set-up a youth project tailored to your group.

Colleen Mackey and Laura Lorenz: You supported my dream and helped make this opportunity possible – Thank you! Special shout out to the five amazing girls from Girl Scout Troop 70863 in Lakewood, OH – you all are true rock stars, and your ideas, hard work, and passion will take you far!

Training Community Health Workers to support the African Immigrant: Photovoice project

By Stephanie Lloyd

“Pictures are powerful… Pictures represent how someone felt at that moment in time.”
–Training participant, African Immigrant Photovoice project

The African Immigrant Health Research Consortium (AIHRC) is a 7-member partnership comprising New England-based patients, providers, community organizations and researchers. During March 2020, the partners decided that in-person community forums would be halted due to COVID-19. In addition, they recognized the need for rapid responses to COVID-19 issues quickly emerging in African immigrant communities.

This summer, a ‘Talking with Pictures’ course alum reached out to our team to develop a training for Community Health Workers and to support the implementation of 6-8 photovoice projects across New England. The projects purpose is to systematically document and compile actual on-the-ground experiences and recommendations by African immigrants living throughout New England to support real-time development of effective, culturally and linguistically appropriate COVID-19 healthcare practices in the region. Project findings are intended to produce useful knowledge to inform interventions engaging African immigrant patients in COVID-19 prevention, testing and treatment options; and contribute to the body of knowledge needed for managing the capacity at hospitals and healthcare systems to adequately serve African immigrants during this and future pandemics.

Funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), this enhancement aims to use photovoice to systematically:

(1) document challenges and successful strategies.
(2) provide recommendations for engagement in COVID-19
prevention, testing and treatment.

From the beginning, our team felt that using a photovoice method in this particular project would be true to Caroline Wang’s initial intentions to give a voice to those who have valuable lived experience, promote awareness of a problem and the potential solutions outlined by participants, and create a space to provide compelling evidence for changes in practices and policies.

In early September, PhotovoiceWorldwide staff delivered a 6-hour training to state-level consortium staff and Community Health Workers from all six New England states. Prior to the training, participants indicated that they were hoping to learn:

  • how to best facilitate and practice skills necessary to effectively complete the project,
  • the best methods to recruit members for the research, and
  • “How to use photovoice as a power tool to inform, collect, and engage the African community in understanding our health related issues—how to empower individuals.”

During the three, 2-hour sessions, participants learned about the photovoice method, gained hands-on experience in each step, developed photo-taking questions to guide their forthcoming projects, and discussed how to facilitate projects with their participants. During discussions with this highly engaged group, a number of interesting questions and options surfaced.

For the purposes of the training, participants were instructed to take a positive and a negative photo related to the photo-taking prompts:

  • Experiences as an African Immigrant living in New England;
  • What it’s like to be a nonprofit leader; or
  • What supports or detracts from completing work or educational goals.

Participants used their photos to write captions, develop preliminary themes, and reflect on what it was like to take pictures related to a prompt. In addition to familiarizing participants with photovoice’s participatory visual research method, this hands-on experience also allowed participants to experience and understand the tasks they would be asking their own photovoice participants to do.

“Having home with you”
–Asha, Training Participant, African Immigrant Photovoice

The photo pictured at left shows a hand with a henna tattoo. The participant who took this photo talked about feeling close to her sister without being together.

The group also talked about seeking permission from photo subjects, and the pros and cons of asking their participants not to include any photos that show faces, as an option.

“Where pain lies, hope grows”
–Azam, Training Participant, African Immigrant Photovoice

This photographer explained that COVID has not stopped growth, and the plant pictured represents hope to get to where we will be able to hug the people we love and be around them again.

During the module on caption-writing, a participant noted that facilitators can see different things in the photos, and thus it is extremely important to ask the photographer about what the photo means to them, and what decisions they made to take a specific photograph.

“COVID has created disorder”
– Emmerence, Training Participant, African Immigrant Photovoice

The “trash pile” shown at left is the physical representation of one person’s experience living during the current pandemic.

We usually offer our photovoice participants the option to take one photo that is ‘representational’ and documents something they want to show us, and another photo that is a metaphor, or a ‘symbol’ for their feelings. This photo was selected along with several others to showcase the overarching theme of being overwhelmed.

Training participants also reflected on the positive use of small groups prior to presenting photos to the larger group. The group concluded that this would be a successful strategy to help their photovoice participants get to know each other and gain confidence when speaking to the larger group.

We also talked about how to support participants who are not literate or who cannot write in English, and are fluent in other languages. Since the core principles of photovoice include voice and understanding, it is extremely important to consider languages. We talked about making sure to have a translator on the project team and the possible need to work with some participants in a small group or one-on-one setting. In addition, it might be necessary to use voice narration, or have the facilitator write the caption as the participant speaks. During the final exhibit or in any publications, captions could appear in multiple languages to keep the participant’s voice and intent at the forefront.

Community Health Workers are currently in the process of facilitating their photovoice sessions, which will yield rich data (in the form of photos and captions) by African immigrants living throughout New England. The culmination of these projects will be a virtual town hall, designed to foster dialogue about patient experiences with various stakeholders (e.g., providers, researchers, hospital administrators, etc.) across the region and gain feedback on themes. Finally, this will lead to a list of recommendations for effective models and practices to inform interventions engaging African immigrants in COVID-19 prevention, testing, and treatment options. 

In total, PhotovoiceWorldwide was slated to provide this team:

  • “Photovoice 101” training
  • Ongoing technical assistance for individual training sites
  • Advanced Photovoice trainings on facilitating photovoice projects remotely and working with participants to caption photos and develop themes
  • A bi-weekly check-in with the program coordinator throughout the project

This project is funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award (17466-MAC).

If you and your team are interested in customized photovoice trainings or consulting, contact us at info@photovoiceworldwide.com.

Q&A with Nora Canellakis

A Conversation with PhotovoiceWorldwide’s Newest Intern

Nora Canellakis graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Spanish in May of 2020. We recently sat down with Nora to talk about her interests, views, and aspirations, as well as to learn about her experience taking PVWW’s seminal course, “Talking with Pictures.”

PVWW: You majored in anthropology, so you are obviously interested in people. How do you see this fitting in with your work at PVWW?

NK: Yes, I love people and find the study of the worlds of humans fascinating, be it cultural, linguistic, biological, or archaeological. I have found that my studies in anthropology have tied in well with the mission that PVWW seeks to accomplish. In particular, my background in visual ethnography falls right in line with photovoice’s work to provide individuals with cameras to be able to document and uncover the truths embedded in their own lives. In my studies my professor would always say, if only there were a way to provide the tools of the colonizer to those colonized themselves, hinting at the regrettable roots of the discipline of anthropology. I think the fact that photovoice does just that is essential. As a visual methodology, it provides tools and a space for people to share their experience and create social change. As a lover of photography, with an interest in people and a passion for learning and social justice, photovoice provides me with the opportunity to be able to meld these interests, to learn more about the lives of others, and to advocate for its use across social media platforms.

PVWW: I understand you are an avid writer. What is your favorite genre and why?

NK: I have always loved writing stories since I was a little kid. My mom is a writer, and I suppose taking after her I have a passion for writing fiction and autobiographical narratives based on everyday experience. I love the ability that words have to paint vibrant images and scenes. The use of fun descriptors to convey the sensory details of a space. I enjoy words that communicate experiences of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. In essence, I enjoy the ability of words to transport readers into their imagined scenery and to express lived experience. 

PVWW: What is the last book you read, and what did it teach you?

NK: I dove into The Twilight Saga novels a few months ago. The release of a new book, Midnight Sun, by Stephanie Meyer, prompted me to reread the series. I am just finishing the last novel, Breaking Dawn. It has inspired me to marvel at the power of narration to transport readers to fictitious worlds, and the depth of detail that can be provided to breathe life into that reality. It reminds me to believe in the power of imagination to surpass boundaries, and to create the magic in our everyday lived experience.  

PVWW: You are of Greek heritage, and have visited Greece multiple times with your family. How has that changed or add to your worldview?

NK: My family heritage adds to my understanding of myself, my cultural identity as a whole, and has enriched my understanding of the diversity that exists in our world. As a half-Greek American, when I was young, I would travel to Greece every other summer to visit my paternal grandfather who lived in Galatas. My Greek heritage has shaped who I am today. During my trips there I was able to get a taste of life in the Peloponnese, and to carry shells back with me to remember the beaches. My grandmother would always say that language is a window into a culture, and I truly believe it is. Fluency in Spanish, acquired during my study abroad in Spain, allowed me to become fully immersed in Spanish customs and way of life while living in Salamanca, Spain. Interacting with global cultures in my family travels and studies has allowed me to understand and cultivate an appreciation for the beauty of the diverse identities that make up our world today. Because of this I see myself as a global citizen, and I enjoy engaging with friends from all over the world.

Nora and her family on one of their trips to Greece

PVWW: What inspired you to pursue an internship at PhotovoiceWorldwide, and what do you hope to get out of it?

NK: My best friend growing up, Carson Peters, a former PhotovoiceWorldwide intern, recommended that I, with my love of visual arts and photography, apply, and I am so happy she did! I feel so fortunate to have come across PhotovoiceWorldwide! I hope to continue to develop the skills I have cultivated in my undergraduate studies, in a career environment. I hope to be an activist for social change, raising awareness of relevant issues, and to work in visual storytelling. I’m happy to be a part of the team!

PVWW: You recently completed the course Talking with Pictures. What did you enjoy most about the course, and what was your greatest takeaway?

NK: Yes, I did complete Talking with Pictures! I really enjoyed the content of the course, and to be able to study the theoretical underpinnings of photovoice and its original use among women in Yunnan Province, China, to effect policy change. I enjoyed how the course assignments allowed us to act as participants in the photovoice model, using photographs and captions to convey experience literally and symbolically. I enjoyed learning about how photovoice can be used to support individuals with disabilities and those recovering from traumatic brain injury. Additionally, I enjoyed Laura’s teaching style, the variety of tools and resources she shared as a complement to the methodology, and the way in which she integrated personal experience into each lesson so that the information went beyond the classroom. I loved the opportunity to be able to share a learning space with individuals from around the world, to hear their experience, and see how they were able to adapt the photovoice methodology to their project of interest.

PVWW: Are you considering graduate school? If so, what academic field would you choose, and why?

NK: I am considering graduate school. Particularly I am interested in attending a cinematic arts program that specializes in digital content creation for documentary storytelling. I think the power of images to convey stories is infinite, and it is an essential skill to have. I think that a visual arts-based program would provide me with the flexibility, structure, and tools to be able to create content to share experience, educate others, and tell stories. I enjoy the medium of film. It would be an exciting experience to develop these interests further in an academic setting, and use images to highlight awareness for themes such as environmental activism, sustainability, gender, identity, and animal welfare.