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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.[1] 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, who develop a narrative for each photo. These narratives are used as information by the examining group to better understand the community and frequently take further action within the aforementioned 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 totally different from those traditionally in control of the means of imaging the world" [2] into the policy-making process. It is also a response to issues raised about the authorship of representation of communities.


Also known as "participatory photography," photo voice 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, which has its headquarters 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.[3] 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.[4] Since then, photovoice has been used by refugees in San Diego seeking in-person medical interpretation options[5] and homeless adults in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as by Dr. Claudia Mitchell to support community health workers and teachers in rural South Africa, and by Dr. Laura S. Lorenz of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in her work with brain injury survivors.[6] Photovoice is often used as a tool to engage children and youth, giving them an opportunity to communicate their concerns and coping strategies to policy makers and service providers. [7]

The concept has similarities with that propagated by Paulo Freire regarding critical consciousness, feminist theory and empowerment.

Modern implementation[edit]

In the 21st century, some University professors have used the photovoice model to teach social work students.[8] Photovoice has also been used alongside methods such as collaging, drawing and mapping in participatory studies that focus the voice of participants and that aim to make the familiar strange.[9][9]


Photovoice is considered a subtype of "participatory visual methods," also known as picturevoice, which includes techniques such as photo-elicitation and digital storytelling. These techniques allow research participants to create visuals that capture their individual perspectives as part of the research process.[10][11] 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 by Michael Bitz's Comic Book Project.[12][13]

Photovoice in international development[edit]

Photovoice is a collaborative, participatory methodology in which marginalized or disadvantaged participants are encouraged to create 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 to the international community. Facilitating individuals to tell their stories—and giving them control over the process—empowers them to maintain firm sense of authorship over their representations and helps to convey a stereotype-free picture of what it means to live in a developing country.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1994). Empowerment through Photo Novella: Portraits of Participation. Health Education & Behavior, 21(2), 171-186. doi:10.1177/109019819402100204
  4. ^ Wallerstein, N., & Bernstein, E. (1988). Empowerment Education: Freire's Ideas Adapted to Health Education. Health Education & Behavior, 15(4), 379-394. doi:10.1177/109019818801500402
  5. ^
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Skovdal, M. (2011) “Picturing the coping strategies of caregiving children in Western Kenya: from images to action.” American Journal of Public Health 101(3): 452-453
  8. ^ Oden, Melissa (September 2013). "Using Photo Voice to Teach Social Issues With Undergraduate Social Work Students". Texas Public Health Journal 65 (4): 7–10. 
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "Picturevoice: Health Communication Through Art." Presentation. Society for Public Health Education 60th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA. November 6, 2009.
  11. ^ Lorenz, LS and B Kolb (2009). Involving the public through participatory visual research methods. Health Expectations, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 262-274.
  12. ^ "Healthy Holidays: Lessons Learned from a Community Education Event." Presentation. American Public Health Association 137th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA. November 11, 2009.
  13. ^ "Comicvoice: Community education through sequential art." Pop Culture Association - American Culture Association, St. Louis, MO. (2010)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]