We are pleased to offer two foundational photovoice professional development courses. In this blog, we compare our two foundational course offerings, to help you choose the right course for you. Alumni of both courses are invited to participate in our PhotovoiceWorldwide community of continuing education, including alumni webinars.
In a nutshell, Talking with Pictures is well suited to researchers, clinicians, graduate students, and nonprofit staff who will be planning a photovoice project from start to finish, including ethics review. Photovoice Facilitation Basics is a basic nuts-and-bolts course that provides researchers, nonprofit staff, community health workers, and peer leaders with the understanding and skills they need to run photovoice groups and meet project goals.
Now let’s explore each course a little more in depth.
Talking with Pictures: Photovoice is a comprehensive 10 hour course spanning 5 interactive sessions (2 hours each) taught by Laura Lorenz, who has a master’s in instructional design/adult education and a doctoral degree in health policy and health services research. With a focus on storytelling and examples from photovoice practice, this course takes you on a journey through the steps of photovoice planning and implementation. The course provides guidelines, options, hands-on practice, and a wealth of supporting materials to guide photovoice planning and implementation from start to finish. As a course participant you will gain an in-depth understanding of the ethical issues related to this powerful method and access to examples of documents for ethics review. You will learn about communication strategies for working with people who have different abilities and disabilities, using photovoice for evaluation, interpreting photovoice data, and disseminating project results. You will also gain an understanding of ways to read photos like text and store your photovoice data. All 5 sessions include hands-on practice with each photovoice step and brainstorming ways to apply course learning to your context. Upon course completion you will have a Photovoice Planning document tailored to your context, with feedback from instructors and peers. We anticipate that contact hours (CEs) will again be available for nurses, psychologists, and social workers.
Well designed, practical, engaging, and supportive.USA
Photovoice Facilitation 101: The Basicsis a nuts-and-bolts 6-hour course spanning 3 sessions (2 hours each) and is taught by Stephanie Lloyd, who has a master’s in applied sociology. The course content is grounded in our consulting services training project teams to run photovoice groups. As a participant you will gain an overview of the photovoice method and learn the basics of ethical photovoice practice, including tools and strategies for introducing your project to participants and gaining informed consent. You will learn about options for implementing photo interviews and photovoice groups. You will gain techniques and tools for engaging participants in all stages of your project, from deciding on photo-taking questions to identifying common themes. All 3 sessions include hands-on practice with photovoice tasks and brainstorming ways to apply your learning to your context using a Photovoice Facilitation planning tool. Upon course completion you will be prepared to contribute to project planning, choose among interview and group facilitation options, and work with participants to support their success and reach project goals.
Now I have content to facilitate photovoice workshops. CANADA
All courses offered by PhotovoiceWorldwide intentionally seek a balance between discussion, presentations, small group work, and hands-on experience. Both Talking with Pictures and Photovoice Facilitation Basics provide practical practice with the steps of photovoice, from taking pictures to discussing them, choosing some for captions, and presenting to others. By the end of either course, you will know what it is like to participate in a photovoice project. You will be ready to work with participants in a meaningful way, support their success, and reach your project’s goals.
We hope that you now can make an educated decision on which of our foundational courses is best for you, and we welcome you to join our growing community of photovoice researchers, practitioners, clinicians, and peers. If you have any questions or need more information to help you to determine the better choice for your needs; email us at email@example.com to set up a time to talk.
“Photovoice is an innovative way to reflect, talk, learn, share, and make a difference for yourself and others.” -PhotovoiceWorldwide
Photovoice puts cameras in the hands of people with valuable lived experience so they can explore and share their perspectives on health, family, community, and their futures.
The goal of photovoice is to give a “voice” to those who—because of their age, status, or condition—do not have a strong say in the policies and decisions that impact their health, safety, and quality of life. Photovoice participants around the globe include people living with chronic health conditions or disabilities, minorities, youth, veterans, immigrants, people living with mental illness, parents of children with special needs, people who are homeless, and many others.
Using the photovoice method, participants share stories with pictures and words, documenting their challenges and strengths, successes and failures, hopes and fears—from their perspective. Their photos and captions prompt respectful conversations among equals—whether researchers, participants, community members, or decision-makers. The photos, captions, and conversations become valuable data for advocacy, policymaking, and decisions on a path forward.
With photovoice, a range of stakeholders—patients, clinicians, researchers, community members, nonprofits—work together to:
Learn about photovoice and decide on a topic
Take photographs that show their thoughts and experiences
Discuss and reflect on their photos and experiences
Write or dictate captions to share the stories behind their photos
Identify common themes
Inform others through exhibits and other outreach.
Unlike traditional methods of research, where the persons conducting the study hold all the power, photovoice flips this script by empowering the persons being studied to be co-researchers. This participatory approach generates authentic, real-life data that opens people’s eyes to new possibilities, creates awareness, and becomes a catalyst for change. After participating in photovoice, many participants find they have greater confidence and self-esteem from having had an opportunity to be seen, be heard, and help others.
The following examples illustrate a few of the limitless applications possible using the photovoice participatory research method:
A “Talking with Pictures” photovoice project in Lexington, Mass., looked with fresh eyes at community integration of older adults living with brain injury. Participants took photographs and wrote captions to investigate and share information on their lives, experiences, and community. The project exhibit fostered community dialog about the integration of people with disabilities into community life, and informed town decision-making regarding sidewalk improvements. It also gave the participants a deep and rewarding sense of pride and accomplishment. The project received a grant from the Dana Home Foundation and was sponsored by the nonprofit Supportive Living Inc
In Mdantsane Township, South Africa, four members of the youth-led nonprofit Youth Academy were trained to be co-leaders on a photovoice project funded by the Equity Project, a partnership of the South African Department of Health and USAID. Participants took photographs of community resources and problems from their point of view, wrote captions, and prepared an exhibit organized under six themes: Health and Welfare, Education and Training, Community Vision, Economic Opportunity, Security, and Township Life. Exhibits at public libraries, the local hospital, and the regional capital captured policymaker attention and helped the young people feel heard.
A group of girls in Lowell, Massachusetts, participated in a photovoice community activism project as an afterschool activity of Girls Incorporated of Greater Lowell. Project goals were to identify resources and challenges in Lowell as seen from the perspectives of adolescent girls. Using photographs and captions, Girls Inc. members documented community resources and needs, and reached policymakers and decision-makers through an exhibit at City Hall. The project was sponsored by Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell, with funding from the Association for American University Women.
In a study of Veterans’ experiences feeding their families, photovoice engaged low-income veterans with children in reflecting on their experiences trying to provide adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. Researchers learned about the barriers veterans face in getting food on the table, the strategies they employ, and the impact these barriers and strategies have on their families. Their photos and captions prompted creation of a new model to describe and understand what influences the home food environment for veterans and improve their access to nutritious food for their children. This project was funded by the William T. Grant Foundation.
As you can see, the photovoice method can be adapted to almost any community or population, providing an opportunity for people to have a say in the policies, services, and decisions that impact their health, safety, and quality of life.
PhotovoiceWorldwide’s mission is to help individuals and organizations worldwide use photovoice safely, ethically, and successfully, and to create a global community for photovoice peer-to-peer support and continuing education.
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
Welcome to photovoice & careful photo-taking
Photo sharing & caption writing
Selecting photos & revising captions
Gallery walk & presentation practice
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:
Plants, flowers, vegetables
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
“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.
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).
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.
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.
I recently completed the online course Talking with Pictures: Photovoice, taught by Dr. Lorenz. It was a great introduction to photovoice as a visual methodology and its use to create projects for social justice. I was excited for this opportunity to learn about how photos and lived experience can heal and spark change. We unearthed the theoretical foundations that are the basis for this methodology, with its roots in anthropology, feminist theory, and documentary photography. As a student of anthropology with an affiliation for visual arts, I was able to connect with this approach immediately. The photovoice projects Dr. Lorenz has done with those affected by traumatic brain injury, using images to reflect experience, particularly resonated with me as the younger sibling of an older brother who survived a stroke at birth. I was able to see how versatile the photovoice approach is and how insightful the data is that it provides.
What began among a group of village women in Yunnan province, China, working as visual anthropologists to effect policy change, has been developed and transformed into a universal participatory visual research method through the work of Dr. Lorenz and others, in which cameras become tools for empowerment.
Defined during the course, photovoice is a creative approach to exploring and enhancing the lives of individuals and their communities according to their own concerns and interests. Regardless of a participant’s literacy level, photovoice taps into the universal language of photos, allowing community members with insight into their own communities to become catalysts for change. The work of Dr. Lorenz, beginning as a photojournalist, has taken her around the world photographing development efforts and leading photovoice projects for group and community empowerment. Her work and insight enrich the course, as she provides lessons with real-life anecdotes and stories into the execution and outcomes of photovoice projects.
The course allows for collaboration among participants to share their ideas and explore the photovoice approach for themselves. Assignments brought me out with my own camera, taking photos to document experience, and then called for reflection on those images to understand the experience they communicate. We learned how to arrange photos thematically according to common ideas or experiences. We also discovered that photovoice participants should not shy away from capturing both positive and negative aspects of their realities, as all add value to the group process.
I was able to utilize photographs to capture and explain my experience living with my family in West Cornwall, Connecticut, during the pandemic. I saw the power of an image through its ability to illuminate detail from the photographer’s vantage point, and learned the importance of pairing a caption with a photograph, to contextualize it within the narrative of one’s experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be an active participant in this course. Our small session included participants from around the globe engaged in work across fields, yet collaborating on photovoice methodology together. We were a virtual gathering of four engaging in a common space. As such, across each class meeting it felt like we got to know each other, as our thoughts and ideas were shared in this intimate virtual classroom environment. I witnessed how images can be used to capture individualized experience and, utilizing course tools and planning pages as guides, was able to map out a photovoice project of my own. I learned a lot over these sessions, and highly recommend others to take this class too!
In Part 1 of this blog we talked about how protest photos from the BLM convey stories of activism; showcase change-makers; evoke feelings of solidarity, resistance, and advocacy; and demonstrate political action. By illuminating voice and engaging communities, these photos can reframe the narrative of BLM through this powerful visual tactic.
How does Photovoice contribute to the conversation of BLM protest photos? Let’s explore this further by delving into how several theories and the framework of Photovoice reflect social justice approaches in BLM protest photos.
Feminist Theory: This theory positions women at the forefront within the dominant and marginalized social discourses. By rejecting institutionalized pedagogies (historical, economic, political, and social structures), feminist theory allows women to advance social change (Lienbenberg 2011). Photovoice uses this theory for the collaboration and inclusion of women to foster empowerment and liberation (Lienbenberg 2011; Wang et al., 1996). BLM is a movement created by three women who sought to be change-makers for issues affecting their community. Both Photovoice and BLM empower women to be voices and leaders within their communities, discourse, and discipline.
Paulo Freire’s critical consciousness theory creates awareness in communities and illuminates the importance of social change. This pedagogy describes the impetus for using photos to illustrate how social and political realities shape people’s lived experiences (Lienbenberg 2011). Critical consciousness is when individuals gain awareness of oppressive structures, where communities have the propensity to mobilize against these systems of power. (Lienbenberg 2011). The Freire theory reflects ideals of BLM where the “praxis for change and collective action of the community work together to create meaningful change” (Lienbenberg 2011).
The principles of photography expand upon how photography can be a visual tool for creating representation, advocacy and social change. Wang and Burris (1994) explore the “essentiality of documentary photography for narrative research; where photos critically reflect lived experiences, and fundamentally represent “signifiers of culture, values and expectations of individuals, communities, and society” (Lienbenberg 2011). In doing so, Photovoice uses this framework to evoke policy change. BLM uses protest photos and visual methods to shape a narrative for social change and advocacy. Through the tactics of grassroots and community member-led network, the ideals of agency and voice are exercised to foster meaningful impact in communities. This often occurs through the lens of political reform or policy.
Photovoice utilizes the community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) model which emphasizes the “democratization of knowledge development as a component of social justice” (Lienbenberg 2011). CBPAR recognizes the mobilization in communities, where the inherent knowledge, realties, needs and expertise are valued (see model pictured below), and social transformation can take place. Both Photovoice principles and BLM engage communities, promote grounded experiences and knowledge; and value how participation, and action, lead to social change/justice.
Within BLM protest photos, there are ethical considerations of ownership, usage, and consent, which also hold relevancy in Photovoice projects. The notion of ownership includes the misuse or misrepresentation of photos, which can be taken out of context or abused from the original intentionality. Thus, there is a need to ensure that individuals “sharing the messages best understand the language and what needs to be said” (The Guardian 2020). Ethical considerations of usage emerge since some photos may receive more recognition or have more relevancy (Brehman 2016). There is a pressing need for BLM protest photos to be representative and authentic. This ethical consideration is discussed in many Photovoice projects, as well in the context of how to best to share and which photos should be recognized. Consent is also an ethical consideration, since the identity of the protestors should be protected if consent is not granted, which is also the case for Photovoice projects. Overall, the ethical considerations of BLM protest photos represent ethical considerations that should be considered for Photovoice projects.
The ideals of community, participation, advocacy, and agency are illuminated in visual methods. At the heart of what we do at PhotovoiceWorldwide LLC is to create awareness, foster dialog, bring real lives into practice and policy conversations, and plant seeds for change within the global community. This photovoice method ideal complements how BLM protest photos recognize the power of using visual methods to enhance participatory approaches and decision making among policy makers. These visual method approaches demonstrate the power of advocacy in being change leaders in global communities and mobilizing change agents. The photovoice method and BLM protest photos are examples of ways to empower communities by providing opportunities to use their collective voices and share/value an individual’s and a group’s lived experiences to create positive impact in global communities.
So, how can you get involved?
Create a photobook, photo journal, or photo essay about social justice initiatives in your local area. Make sure to align with ethical considerations. Reflect on this project.
I am a big fan of disposable cameras, both for my personal work and for photovoice purposes. Disposable cameras have a limited number of images each. What better way to encourage your photovoice participants to concentrate and really think about their images? I’ve also noticed that younger generations are intrigued by this “vintage” tool, and treat it with respect. They know about film cost and the lack of infinite opportunities to retake the same photo. Because of these limitations, I find disposable cameras to be a great tool for “brain image making” as well. And this is a “life skill” that participants can use in other areas of their life, beyond their photovoice projects. By helping participants learn how to concentrate and think about their images, you may be helping them build skills that enable them to envision future possibilities for themselves in their everyday lives.
Usually when we take a picture with a digital or film camera (even with our cell phones), we have a certain amount of power over the process. We can adjust the camera’s shutter speed, the aperture, and the depth of field. We can use different types of film – color, black and white, fast speed, slow speed. However, when we use disposable cameras, we need to change our point of view regarding the technical aspects of taking a photograph. Getting the most out of your disposable camera may mean adjusting yourself instead.
Disposable cameras have limited flexibility: they have certain settings you cannot change. For example, they have a:
Fixed lens (usually 35mm- allowing for a wide angle to shoot even landscape photos)
Fixed aperture (something around 8.0f – where everything that is about four or more feet away should be in focus)
Fixed speed (1/125- so that subjects can look still)
Fixed ISO (usually 400).
The fixed aspects of a disposable camera means that we, as photographers, need to adjust to these settings. Therefore, to successfully translate the image in our head into a picture, we need to know first how your camera “sees” and the types of issues we could encounter on your path to getting the image we want.
There are three common issues that frustrate people when looking at photos they have taken with a disposable camera. For each issue, I provide some remedial strategies. The examples provided are from a photovoice project I facilitated with migrant youth in the town of Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, in Italy.
Issue: The disposable camera sees much less light than we do, therefore, the image may be darker than we expect. When you are taking a photo outdoors near sunset or dawn, keep in mind that the camera will record the image as if the time were an hour later in the evening or an hour earlier in the morning, when the light is lower and darkness more prominent.
Strategy 1: To understand the camera’s point of view on light, try this exercise: Squeeze your eyelids close together, as if you were to almost close your eyes. Observe how doing this darkens or mutes what you see. That is how your disposable camera sees or records incoming light. Whatever the camera sees through its lens and records on film will be darker than what you see with your eyes wide open.
Strategy 2: If you are taking a photo indoors – unless you are near a window during a bright day – use the camera’s built-in flash to avoid blurry or indistinct images.
Issue: With disposable cameras – and Polaroid cameras as well – the lens cannot focus on any object closer than four feet away. Anything closer than four feet away will look blurry and out of focus in the printed image. However, when the photographer looks through the viewfinder, the image will not look blurry! So how can your participants take photos from a close-up perspective?
Strategy: Use the camera creatively to show different areas of interest in the same picture (especially when trying to give perspective or a specific focus in a photo). I took this shot with a b/w disposable camera in Venice. To add depth of field to it, I decided to frame the grid in front of me into the picture. Because of its proximity I knew that it would come out blurry (or out of focus) in the final print. This served my intention well: to bring all the viewer’s attention to the man walking in the rain.
Issue: What we see through the camera’s “viewfinder” is slightly different from what the actual camera lens will see and record. With most disposable cameras, the viewfinder is separate from the camera lens, often slightly to the left.
Strategy: This shift means that if we want to have a particular object or person in the center of the photo, we need to adjust how we are pointing the camera. We will need to move the subject in the viewfinder a bit to the side – which will place our camera lens right where we want it. Here is where our mental image for a photo may be useful. What angle will compose the picture the way we want it to look? How do we need to move or point the camera to get the image we want?
Other issues that can affect photo-taking for photovoice when using disposable cameras include: Mixed light source, sticky fingers, accidental shots, and foggy pictures. The handout “Disposable Cheat Sheet” provides a quick overview of the issues noted in this blog post and strategies for avoiding them. Use the “Cheat Sheet” as a quick reference guide to support your photovoice participants’ photo-taking.
In conclusion, disposable cameras can be an excellent option for photovoice projects. Participants can use them to take great pictures. Some simple instructions from you, as a photovoice researcher or facilitator, will help participants use their limited number of pictures to their best advantage. The strategies described in this blog post are based on my photographic training and on actual experience facilitating photovoice. I hope the practical ideas presented here will help you support your participants in getting good images and feeling pleased with their photovoice photos.
Erica Belli –
Erica is an educator and photographer based in Italy. She studied at the Italian Institute of Photography and is currently attending the Faculty of Psychology of the G.Marconi University. She facilitates photovoice projects in Northern Italy and focuses on photo-creative approaches to therapy.
By Carson Peters, PhotovoiceWorldwide Summer Intern
We’ve seen the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. However, without protest photos, our “framing” would be different.
Black Lives Matter is an internationally recognized grassroots social movement that advocates for justice for the Black community. Founded in 2013 by three Black female organizers, the movement affirms the lives and humanity of all Black persons, reducing systemic prejudices, mobilizing communities to be agents of change, and capitalizing on local power. Visit this link to learn more https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/.
Core to the BLM mission is the use of nonviolent, civil disobedient protesting. This purposeful strategy creates resistance, and can lead a powerful collective voice to influence decisions that lead to social change (Hanna 2016; Ghreichi 2016). By using these approaches and frameworks, BLM encourages dialogue and raises awareness to influence policy through mass mobilization and organization, political interventions, and other reform. BLM represents a holistic movement that empowers individuals to use their voices for change.
It is important to note the global focus of BLM. These protests are occurring worldwide and not in a vacuum. The Black Lives Matter Global Network and The Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc., which are housed within BLM, seek to mobilize the global community. BLM has actively mobilized a global outcry for social justice (Patrick 2020) via the advancement of human liberty and dignity worldwide. Here are some protest photos from around the world, published in a photo journal in The Atlantic, curated by Alan Taylor. Check here to see more.
Protest photos show a multitude of BLM themes, including: emotion, engagement, documentation, meaning, support, and purpose.
Here are some themes from photographers who have recently photographed BLM protests.
Emotion: Photos illuminate feelings. A photographer in Minneapolis indicates, “throughout the day, I was photographing: joy, mourning, and reflectance; and at the end of the night, I was photographing anger, frustration, and turmoil” (Bell, The Guardian 2020). Another photographer indicated that BLM photos illustrate mistrust, hopelessness, and determination (Speltz 2016). These photographs convey emotions that are expansive and diverse. Images are both valuable and powerful because they instantly guide emotional responses, even before logic, and can motivate action (Brehman, 2016; Wakeland, 2013).
Photos capture moments in time and space by serving as historical documentation—of meetings, marches, and demonstrations. These protest photos “document, preserve, inspire, attest, and provide evidence” to showcase moments in time (Speltz 2016). BLM protest photos will inform citizens, activists, and scholars far into the future.
Photos encourage change agents and mobilizers to take action. Speltz (2016) mentions that, protest photos “convey immediacy and inspire activism.”
Photos portray meaning and share stories, where photographers act as “translators of these times and the teachers of our stories” (The Guardian 2020). Photos communicate messages, both personal and societal. Photos from BLM protests convey meaning through their content, structure, or composition (Brehman, 2016).
The purposes of protest photos are versatile and multi-pronged: some photos “tell stories and illuminate the joys and struggles of everyday people working for change, whereas others reveal how local people and their communities are suffering” (Spetlz 2016). Photos may be raw, and real, while others may be uplifting. Photos may be authentic, or somewhat manufactured or staged. The purpose of protest photos encompasses many reasons, but the intention remains within the purview of the photographer.
Photos can demonstrate support of social movements. Protest photos can be deployed through social media as a tool, either by reposting photos using #BLM or sharing photos from #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. These social media-based BLM actions swept across local platforms and allowed supporters across the globe to express solidarity with the movement.
Protest photos create a visual narrative emblazoned in time and space.
Protest photos are a visual time capsule. BLM protest photos are situated within a social context. While these photos are captured in real time, they are placed in a historical archive of knowledge and social evolution. Such photos not only enhance the visibility of social movements and historical events, but also act as symbols. Protest photos shared via various outlets and sources tell a multitude of stories, conveying “the intensity of the struggle, but also, the massive resistance to change” (Speltz 2016). Through these stories, symbols emerge which “serve as ‘frames’ that “construct narratives about politics, society, and identity” (Spratt, 2008). Using the mechanisms of stories and symbols, photos reinforce agency by allowing mobilizers or change agents to reform the narrative and communicate their experiences of solidarity and resistance. These photos “generate a new narrative surrounding race and police brutality,” where the tactics of re-use and repetition reshape collective memories” (Brehman 79, 2016). Thus, protest photos have the propensity to influence a shift in attitudes, ideologies, and policies.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, where I explore how Photovoice frameworks and theories apply to BLM protest photos. Check out more BLM protest photos here.
An area that has received less attention with photovoice is the technical issues related to taking photographs. In Part I of this blog post, I draw from my own experience as a photographer and photovoice facilitator to prepare your photovoice participants to take better photos. In Part 2 I underline some of the common issues that may lead to participants’ frustration with their photovoice photos, and provide strategies to avoid or overcome these issues.
As photovoice researchers and facilitators, we know all too well that the beauty of the photo itself is not our core objective. We care more about photos that are thoughtful, insightful and representative. However, closer attention to preparing to take a photo – before having the camera in hand – can help participants feel more at ease with their cameras and their photo assignment. Spending a few minutes on some basic photography training can improve participants’ ability to take photos they feel proud of and are willing to share outside the photovoice group.
Step 1: Form a mental image
At photography school, I was taught that a picture should be formed in your mind first, before you take up your camera. My teachers conveyed to me that the job of a photographer is to extract this mental image as faithfully as possible.
How do we define a mental image and help our photovoice participants create an image in their minds? To begin, I facilitate short activities so that participants can visualize pictures and scenes in their heads. For example, I ask them to think about their commute home, or a street that they know very well. Then I ask them to close their eyes and describe the scene. I might ask questions to support their mental image-making, such as:
“What time of the day is it?”
“At what point does your image begin?”
“What do you see in the corners of the image?”
“Is there anything in particular happening?”
This simple, imaginative exercise provides participants with a brief yet powerful experience of what “an image in your head” looks and feels like. Depending on your group and the time you have for photography training, you might encourage participants to continue this mental practice on their own time, outside the project sessions – perhaps for each image they want to take for the photovoice project.
Step 2: Take a picture that matches the image in your mind
Ask participants how they plan to achieve the picture in their mind. Are they going to show up at the place at a certain time of day or night? Is there anything they can do to help set up their scene and realize their vision? What do they need to have with them to create the image they want (a scarf, some flowers, an old shoe)? If your participants are like mine, you will soon find yourself debating over the features of the camera and different ways to get the picture they want.
Part of learning to take photographs involves making choices or compromises with the camera. When making choices, photovoice photographers will want to consider the intention or purpose of the photo, the framing that will focus on the important subject, and the light that will shine in the final print. It is important to prioritize these aspects, which takes practice. Making a conscious choice about the top priority for any one image will help your participants to take photos that best match the mental images in their minds.
To explore a mind image gone well, let me introduce you to an example from my own photography: a night shot taken in Japan in 2016 (Photo 1).
Even though this may look like a spontaneous picture, it was indeed born in my head as a mental image, months prior. The year before I had taken a trip to China where I’d started drawing my inspiration for night shots: the neon lights reflecting on the water or shining in an alley were so appealing. I wanted to catch a glimpse of that magic, but I wondered how. I shot a couple of pictures during that trip but I wasn’t satisfied with them.
I realized I had to first work on my mental image. While drawing inspiration from Japanese painter Koitsu’s work and researching night shots, a picture started to form in my mind. I envisioned a vertical shot, like much of Koitsu’s work. It had to be colorful with neon signs and paper lanterns and I knew I wanted a sense of movement in my photo.
As I was walking down an alley in Nagasaki, I saw the opportunity to bring all this to life. It had just lightly rained, and I realized the wet signs would show even brighter if I used the flash directly below them. The sun had just set, meaning that even signs at the very end of the picture could still show, an advantage for reaching a sense of depth. I knelt down and tilted my head a bit to give the picture a sense of movement. I waited until people walked off a little further, and I finally clicked the shutter. My mental image was finally alive!
Let’s discuss some practical examples: Suppose I am taking a picture while it is getting darker. If my intent is to take a portrait of the person in front of me, I want the person to be clear and in focus. I do not care as much if the surroundings are over exposed, blurred or unrecognizable. If I am using an SLR film camera, I might widen the lens aperture and increase the shutter speed so that the person is recognizable and in focus, while their surroundings fade into the background.
Or, suppose I am taking a photo of a neighborhood street at night. When it is dark, objects and people on the street may be indistinct. Perhaps that is what I want. If not, I might need to take my photo late in the day but before it is actually dark, to show more of what I want in the image. If my intention is to document the scene’s details and the ongoing actions that are unfolding , then I will make choices that show those actions. I might decide that I am okay with some parts of the photo looking slightly darker and less distinct than others. I might decide that seeing any one person’s face clearly and in focus is less important. In that case, I would adjust the camera settings such that more of the street scene is in focus in the frame, and the individual details are blurred.
Thus, each photovoice photo your participants take involves making compromises and setting priorities in order to meet their goal or intention for the image. By first forming a mental image of the photo they want to take, they will be able to make better decisions .
Next, we need to think about the medium itself – our choice of camera. The choice of camera for photovoice involves instructing participants on its use. The choice is also crucial to achieving great images. In my photovoice projects I have often provided participants with disposable cameras, which have both technical advantages and limitations. In part 2, I will review the use of disposable cameras with photovoice and the ways their use can prompt us to rethink image making.
Erica Belli is an educator and photographer based in Italy. She studied at the Italian Institute of Photography and is currently attending the Faculty of Psychology of the G.Marconi University. She facilitates photovoice projects in Northern Italy and focuses on photo-creative approaches to therapy.
An earlier PhotovoiceWorldwide blog post by Stephanie Lloyd (Options for Photovoice Photo Taking), introduced us to different camera options, their pros and cons, and a brief overview of their use in photovoice projects.