Last week we wrapped up another successful online ‘Talking with Pictures’: Photovoice course!
During this session, learners chose “belonging to a community” as the photo-taking theme for the hands-on exercise. Their photos and captions related to the reality of living in different areas of the United States during COVID-19. Later, while analyzing their photos and bringing in social exchange theory, the discussion touched on costs and rewards of closing public spaces and the other measures taken to ensure social distancing and reduce infection.
A nice thing about smaller course size, is that it allows learners to bring in their own research interests and focused questions for facilitators and participants to explore together. May course participants prompted further research and discussion on these topics:
Examples of using photos in a primary way to explore their own lives as an auto-ethnographic approach as a learning practice for graduate students. See Elizabeth Chaplin’s chapter “The Photo Diary as Autoethnographic Method” in the SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, edited by Eric Margolis and Luc Pauwels (2012).
Options for collecting, organizing, and storing Photovoice Data using photo databases, qualitative analysis software (e.g. Atlas.ti or Nvivo), VoiceThread, Box, or Excel.
As of today, over 140 individuals throughout the U.S. and around the world have taken the foundations course ‘Talking with Pictures’: Photovoice, and learned how to successfully develop and manage a photovoice project.
On May 12, PhotovoiceWorldwide was excited to host a webinar for its ‘Talking with Pictures’: Photovoice course alumni. In the webinar, “Photovoice with Holga Cameras: Create Social Change with a Click,” Lisa Powers talked about her experiences using Holga cameras and working with Dr. Caroline Wang on photovoice projects in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Here are some things we learned!
In most of her work, Lisa has used Holga cameras in her own picture taking and teaching. These types of cameras allow photographers to create multiple exposures, where two or more images are layered over each other. The 120mm film also allows a photographer to take pictures without advancing the film the entire way, which yields a panoramic image. Because these plastic cameras only have basic light and aperture settings, the images they produce sometimes include light leaks and other mysterious and playful shadows. Using these cameras for photovoice projects allows participants to focus on composition and what emotions an image evokes, rather than more technical aspects of photography.
IMPORTANT FEATURES OF THE PHOTOVOICE PROCESS
Photovoice projects are about the photographer sharing their point of view, and how they see or experience something. Lisa says: “Along the way, art starts to shape us.” Making images may change the way we see or how we view a certain condition. All photographs from a project may not end up on the wall at the show, but all are important because they add to the discussion. When you do the hard work of organizing a photovoice project you are not always sure how it will turn out but somehow it all comes together.
A signature feature of photovoice, as co-creators Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris designed it, is to reach policymakers. Although a project may have important implications for participants, first and foremost is giving them a voice to raise awareness of issues to those who can make change. One example Lisa described was the impact of the Language of Light photovoice project on a vote to move the homeless shelter further outside of town and next to a dump. The photovoice exhibit and media coverage meant a different outcome, as voters and politicians chose instead to build a new shelter two blocks from the old one. Secondary to bringing light to an important issue, is to promote critical dialogue and empower individuals. Lisa described how good it can feel for a participant who is homeless, for example, to be seen as a photographer and an artist, and not just as a homeless person.
Another important part of photovoice is to allow ample time for reflection and to encourage documenting assets or strengths, not just challenges or problems. After participants take their photos, it is important to make sure they have enough time to write captions, discuss, and reflect. Lisa recommends that the project leader design the timeline with this aspect in mind. And finally, the facilitator will want to be mindful of keeping copies of the photographs produced during a project (and of course remember to obtain consent to share them in other places).
Q&A WITH LISA POWERS
In some ways, the Holga seems to be able to “alter” or portray reality differently. Do you encourage participants to use filters or change photographs in other ways?
Giving participants a chance to portray what they think, and their own reality is most important. If the participant wants to use filters to express who they are and what they see around them, then the project leader should let them do so.
In your project in Romania, did you have an interpreter or co-collaborator who spoke Romanian? (or maybe you speak it?!)
Yes, there have been several projects that included translators, including the one in Romania. When you have interpreters, the pace is slower and its harder to get the nuances. Luckily, art is universal, everyone can express themselves and participate in a project.
How much time did you spend with project participants explaining how to work with light and other photographic techniques?
In many projects, participants are on the street with mentors and photographers, talking about light elements and experimenting with light. Having photographer mentors helps provide one-on-one instruction in taking photos, in addition to the group work.
Other than “fake panorama,” are there other distortions possible using the Holga?
The Holga image possibilities might be endless. Photographers can play with the places on the negative where there is darkness and bring a new image in. For example, you could double expose so that where a person’s face is, there is another object. With the Holga camera, a lot happens by surprise, and it is important to be open to the element of surprise and not have too much of an expectation of control.
What is a favorite example of stakeholder response to photovoice participants’ presentations that you have been involved in?
In my work in Solano county with the ‘Welfare to Work’ mothers, the project funders were county staff workers/social workers and others who were constantly dealing with whether this was a valid expectation. The photovoice project produced photographs and a slideshow to present to the community, that gave them a lot more information. Sometimes anecdotal evidence is more powerful and easier to understand than empirical and quantitative data. The photographs and text relieved the county workers because they conveyed positive impact of the program from participants’ perspectives.
Could you comment on your experience using photovoice in a developing country or with a disadvantaged population?
Since the Holga isn’t a fancy camera (and it’s plastic) it’s considered pretty basic. This camera was thought of as an art tool. Because it is plastic, participants refer to it as a toy camera, and find it less intimidating than other cameras. We felt comfortable giving it to homeless individuals because it did not look expensive or put people at risk of the camera being stolen. It is something to think about when choosing a camera for a project.
Could you comment on your process of getting film developed?
Twenty years ago, there weren’t many digital options. So, although film and film processing can be expensive and the film must be kept cool, film was our best option. However, with Medium format you can look at the negatives and do a free write from them, and then only scan the negatives and print the images you want to use for the show, which can reduce the cost. Although digital has changed all this and the darkroom printer business has dried up for now, it might come back as a competitive option later as film photography gains fine-art status.
Do you recommend projects start with group photo taking?
Yes, I always recommend mentors of all types (e.g. volunteer photographers, writers, grad students, and people in the community) to be a part of projects. There is a lot of affirmation and encouragement when mentors are present. Photo mentors can be the eyes that help the facilitator point out the positive and document the workshop as it happens. It is helpful to have people take photos of students in action and the process.
Are you planning a photovoice project in this midst of these
uncertain and stressful times? Were you ready to do a photovoice project and
now are re-considering – because your participants can’t go outside, get their
project cameras, or meet with you face-to-face? No need to put your project on
hold! Photovoice is a highly dynamic and adaptable method. Consider making
adjustments that will still provide valid data for interpretation and analysis.
Although your ideal photovoice approach may no longer be an option, here are some
suggestions for how to adjust your projects during these uncertain times.
Photovoice photos do not need to be taken for your project
specifically. Allow participants to use photos that have been taken previously
or by someone else. Right now, while people are being asked to stay at home,
encourage participants to look through old photo albums, phone camera rolls, or
even on the internet to select photos to discuss with you and others. The
important point here is that the photos respond to your project’s prompt or
questions, and represent the genuine thoughts, experiences and feelings of your
methods – create art
Because of its many benefits, photovoice may be the ideal method
for your study. In light of current events, you can’t give project cameras to
your participants, or provide them with photography training or support they
may need. Instead, ask your participants to create visuals – drawings,
photographs, murals, or videos – to discuss with you (Lorenz and Kolb, 2009). Drawings and other art representations may
be helpful to represent feelings and ideas that cannot be captured via
photograph during the current times.
Online or virtual
focus group sessions
Online or virtual focus groups have increased in popularity
as a way to: capture ideas and opinions from a wider demographic, allow greater
accessibility for certain populations, and minimize costs and scheduling
challenges. Using online software (such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Google
Hangouts, etc.) individuals can
participate in an online focus group for free. As long as they are able to
access a computer and reliable internet, web conferencing tools allow your participants
to talk to each other, see the moderator (and each other if they want), and
view a shared picture or document on screen. With online focus groups you have
access to the recording and can create a transcript at the end of the
conversation, which can support data interpretation and analysis. Make sure you
ask participants for permission to record the conversation, whether audio or
Online closed groups
When working across global time zones, it might be helpful
to use a private Facebook Group,
Slack Channel, or other online tool that allows participants to post their photos
and respond to prompts at a time that is easiest for them. These channels allow
you to work at a different pace as participants access the project “channel”
any time they wish, not only in “real time.” With these “channels,” you can specify
a time frame (at least a week) for participants to take pictures, share them on
the closed group, and post comments. A longer time period allows for more
interaction, for example follow-up questions from you (or other group members),
and additional photo-taking prompts to narrow down or delve deeper into themes.
In their study using Facebook and Photovoice with English teachers, Rubrico and
Hashim (2014) concluded that: “The participants found Facebook to be (a) an
innovative, fun, and non-threatening venue for engagement, (b) a convenient and
broader learning space unbounded by time, and (c) an efficient medium of
communication and bonding.”
Jill Nault Connors and Laura Lorenz co-facilitated a
photovoice project with individuals living with anxiety disorder that had an
online component (Connors et al, 2019). As face-to-face photovoice time was
limited, the project used a Slack
channel to work together between their face-to-face meetings. Focus group
discussions during project time were recorded, and draft captions derived from
these conversations were uploaded to Slack along with their related photos.
Participants could visit Slack any time to revise their captions, revise their
photos, and comment on each other’s work. Connors et al (2019) provides a description
of the project’s methods including the online component.
VoiceThread is another format that groups can use to view each other’s work and use one of five formats to leave comments on selected photos. These formats include microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload. The advantage of using VoiceThread is offering participants opportunities to comment, to uploaded photos, and to engage in theme development asynchronously. In her work with young people with IDD exploring experiences and advice related to enrolling in college, Maria Paiewonsky has used photovoice and VoiceThread to enable students throughout Massachusetts to connect with each other and share their experiences. The students developed print and online materials to inspire their peers to consider enrolling in college (Paiewonsky, 2011; Paiewonsky & Lorenz, 2016).
Check out these photovoice project links from Maria Paiewonsky – for both projects participants and facilitator/lead investigator worked remotely using photovoice and other participatory visual methods: Housing First Evaluations: BRIDGES: https://wabridges.weebly.com/ and Mental health and housing: CT MHTG: https://ctmhtghealth.weebly.com/results.html . Be sure to check out the methods tabs for these excellent examples of project websites.
In creating a safe space for young people to participate in
photovoice online, Lauren Lichty and colleagues (Lichty et al, 2019) worked
with participants over several months to encourage critical thinking. They
adopted an online approach to enable students in widely separate locations to
participate in a project together, save project resources, and be culturally
appropriate. They also incorporated an online evaluation component into their
project. They used a WordPress blog and also used private off-blog communicates
for additional support. Over the several weeks of the project, these methods
allowed participants to reflect deeply on root cause analysis of problems and
make sense of their contexts. Lichty et al (2019) provide an excellent
description of their online approach.
Things to keep in
Overall, the answer is “yes” to doing photovoice remotely –
allowing alternatives to photo-taking, creating art, using “real time” meeting
software, and using closed online groups – in the correct context. The biggest thing to keep in mind when
adapting your photovoice project to a remote or virtual meeting space, is to
make sure all participants will have equal access and opportunity. So, when
thinking about some of the amazing tech solutions out there, be mindful of the
population you are working with and the necessary requirements (e.g. computer,
high-speed internet, a camera phone with a data plan) that may not be standard
for individuals living in different contexts. Additionally, support
participation with a “test run” or provide training on the technology, so that
everyone is comfortable prior to the actual data collection time frame. Consider
trying the technology in a pilot effort with one or two people to start, and expand
as you and your participants gain in confidence. And perhaps most important of
all – have fun and enjoy your conversations with participants, however they
Finally, it is important to remember that despite our best
efforts, not every photovoice project will result in outcomes we anticipated,
whether or not they have a remote component. Participants might need
encouragement to take photos and they may or may not remember what they purpose
of the photo mission is. They may struggle with the technology options you have
decided on. Despite these potential challenges, every photovoice project
results in increased awareness of participants’ perceptions, through initial conversations, brainstorming
a list of potential photos and even through a discussion of the challenges to
complete the work.
Do you have other ideas or questions about conducting
photovoice projects remotely? Have you made adjustments to photovoice so you
can work remotely? Feel free to reply below or reach out to us at email@example.com.
Connors, JD, Conley, MJ, & Lorenz, LS. (2019). Use of
Photovoice to engage stakeholders in planning for patient-centered outcomes
research. Research involvement and engagement, 5, 39-39. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40900-019-0166-y
Lichty, L., Kornbluh, M., Nortensen,
J., and Foster-Fishman, P. (2019). Claiming Online Space for Empowering
Methods: Taking Photovoice to Scale Online. Global Journal of Community
Psychology Practice: Promoting Community Practice for Social Benefit. 10(3),
Nykiforuk, Candace & Vallianatos, Helen & Nieuwendyk,
Laura. (2011). Photovoice as a Method for Revealing Community Perceptions of
the Built and Social Environment. The International Journal of Qualitative
Paiewonsky, M. 2011.
“Hitting the Reset Button on Education: Student Reports on Going to College.”
Career Development for Exceptional Individuals 34 (1): 31–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/0885728811399277.
Paiewonsky, M., Hanson, T. & Dashzeveg, O., and Western
Massachusetts Student Researchers (2017). Put Yourself on the Map: Inclusive
Research With and By College Students with Intellectual Disability/Autism. Student
Reports: A Think College Transition Brief. Boston, MA: University of
Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion. https://pyotm.weebly.com/