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Photovoice is a group analysis method commonly used in the field of community development, public health and education, which often combines photography with grassroots social action. Participants in the process are asked to represent their community or express their point of view by photographing scenes relevant to the examined community. These photographs are brought before the group attempting to study the community, which then develops narratives for each photo. These narratives are used as information for the examining group to better understand the community, and often to take action within the community; most notably in the form of outreach programs. It is often used with marginalized peoples, and is intended to give insight into how they conceptualize their circumstances and their hopes for the future. As a form of community consultation, photovoice attempts to bring the perspectives of those "who lead lives that are different from those traditionally in control of the means for imaging the world" into the policy-making process. It is also a response to issues raised over the authorship of representation of communities.
Also known as "participatory photography," photovoice was developed by Caroline C. Wang of the University of Michigan, and Mary Ann Burris, program officer for women's health at the Ford Foundation, at the time headquartered in Beijing, China. In 1992, Wang and Burris created "photo novella," what is now known as photovoice, as a way to enable rural women of Yunnan Province, China, to influence the policies and programs that affected them. They report being strongly influenced by the efforts of Nina Wallerstein and Edward Bernstein who had adapted the ideas of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed to health promotion and education. It has since then been used among refugees in San Diego seeking in person medical interpretation options, homeless adults in Ann Arbor, Michigan, community health workers and teachers in rural South Africa by Dr. Claudia Mitchell et al., and with brain injury survivors by Dr. Laura S. Lorenz. of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Photovoice is often used as a tool to engage children and youth, giving them an opportunity to communicate their concerns and coping strategies to policymakers and service providers
In the 21st century, some university professors have utilized the photovoice model to teach Social Work students. Photovoice has also been used alongside methods such as collaging, drawing and mapping in participatory studies that central the voice of participants and aim to make the familiar strange.
Photovoice is considered a subtype of "participatory visual methods," also known as picturevoice, which includes techniques such as photo-elicitation and digital storytelling that allow research participants to create visuals that capture their individual perspectives as part of the research process. Two other forms of picturevoice include paintvoice, stemming from the work of Michael Yonas; and comicvoice, which has been pioneered by John Baird's Create a Comic Project since 2008 and to a lesser extent Michael Bitz's Comic Book Project.
Photovoice in international development
Photovoice is a collaborative participatory methodology in which marginalized or disadvantaged participants are supported to generate their own photographic work in order to share live experiences and present it to the world as they see it. In doing so, individuals and communities gain tools and opportunities to create knowledge, understanding and imagery about the issues that are affecting them. By creating alternatives to mainstream modalities of expression, individuals are facilitated to speak, be heard and be seen having previously been excluded. In international development research, this methodology also enables participants from the developing world to define how they want to be represented outside of their country - namely to the international community. Facilitating individuals to tell their stories and to have control over that process, enables them to maintain a firm authorship over their representation and helps to convey a better picture of what it means to live in a developing country beyond stereotypes.
Transforming cash transfers
Participatory photography workshops were run as part of the Overseas Development Institute research project 'Transforming Cash Transfers'. Run in partnership with Photovoice - a charity specializing in the delivery of participatory photography projects - the workshops were run with orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) in Kenya and people with disabilities (PWDs) in Mozambique. As well as being an empowering tool in itself the techniques generated rich insights into the live experiences of cash transfer beneficiaries. The photographs and the digital stories produced by the individuals themselves reveal on their thought about the money they receive and how it has affected their lives.
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