From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Photovoice is a group analysis method combining photography with grassroots social action and is commonly used in the fields of community development, public health, and education. Participants 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 by the examining group to better understand the community and frequently to take action within the community; most notably in the form of outreach programs. It is often used by marginalized groups to provide 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" [1] 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," now known as photovoice, as a way to empower rural women in Yunnan Province, China, to influence the policies and programs that affected them.[2] 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 promote health education.[3] Since then, it has been used by refugees in San Diego seeking in-person medical interpretation options;[4] and homeless adults in Ann Arbor, Michiganas well as by Dr. Claudia Mitchell to support community health workers and teachers in rural South Africa, and Dr. Laura S. Lorenz of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in her work with brain injury survivors.[5] 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. [6]

The concept owes a debt to Paulo Freire, to critical consciousness, feminist theory and empowerment.

Modern implementation[edit]

In the 21st century, some university professors have utilized the Photovoice model to teach Social Work students.[7] Photovoice has also been used alongside methods such as collaging, drawing and mapping in participatory studies that focus the voice of participants and aim to make the familiar strange.[8][8]


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.[9][10] 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.[11][12]

Photovoice in international development[edit]

Photovoice is a collaborative participatory methodology in which marginalized or disadvantaged participants are encouraged to generate their own photographic work in order to share their life experiences and the issues that affect them. By creating an alternative to mainstream modalities of expression, individuals who have previously been excluded from the social dialog can be heard and seen. 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 to the international community. Facilitating individuals to tell their stories - and giving them control over the process - empowers them to maintain a firm authorship over their representation and helps to convey a stereotype-free picture of what it means to live in a developing country.

Transforming Cash Transfers[edit]

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 workshops generated rich insights into the life experiences of Cash Transfer beneficiaries. The photographs and the digital stories produced by the individuals reveal their thoughts about the money they received and how it has affected their lives.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ruby, Jay (1992). "Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside: An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma". Journal of Film and Video 44 (1/2): 42–66. 
  2. ^ Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1994). Empowerment through Photo Novella: Portraits of Participation. Health Education & Behavior, 21(2), 171-186. doi:10.1177/109019819402100204
  3. ^ Wallerstein, N., & Bernstein, E. (1988). Empowerment Education: Freire's Ideas Adapted to Health Education. Health Education & Behaviour, 15(4), 379-394. doi:10.1177/109019818801500402
  4. ^
  5. ^ Lorenz, LS (2010) "Brain Injury Survivors: Narratives of Rehabilitation and Healing." Disability in Society, Ronald J. Berger, Series Editor. Boulder, CO and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
  6. ^ Skovdal, M. (2011) “Picturing the coping strategies of care-giving children in Western Kenya: from images to action.” American Journal of Public Health 101(3): 452-453
  7. ^ Oden, Melissa (September 2013). "Using Photo Voice to Teach Social Issues With Undergraduate Social Work Students". Texas Public Health Journal 65 (4): 7–10. 
  8. ^ a b Mannay, D. 2013. ‘Who put that on there... why why why?:’ Power games and participatory techniques of visual data production. Visual Studies, 28 (2), pp.136-146
  9. ^ "Picturevoice: Health Communication Through Art." Presentation. Society for Public Health Education 60th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA. November 6, 2009.
  10. ^ Lorenz, LS and B Kolb (2009). Involving the public through participatory visual research methods. Health Expectations, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 262-274.
  11. ^ "Healthy Holidays: Lessons Learned from a Community Education Event." Presentation. American Public Health Association 137th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA. November 11, 2009.
  12. ^ "Comicvoice: Community education through sequential art." Pop Culture Association - American Culture Association, St. Louis, MO. (2010)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]