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Photovoice is a qualitative research method used in community-based participatory research that gathers participant-taken photographs and narratives to translate experience into actionable knowledge.[1][2] Photovoice is commonly used in the fields of community development, international development, public health, and education.[3][4] According to Wang and Burris,[3] the creators of the process, a Photovoice project should aim to: (1) empower individuals to document and reflect on community assets and concerns, (2) invite critical dialogue and create knowledge about important community issues while using photographs as a medium for group discussion, (3) reach policymakers and stakeholders.[3][5] Photos taken by participants are used as reference material to guide discussion and interviews in groups, with researchers, or both.[6] Unlike traditional interviews, photovoice it does not solely rely on verbal communication. Since participants address issues non-verbally with photographs, photovoice can be used to overcome social, cultural and linguistic barriers to communication.[7] As a result, photovoice can be implemented with participants regardless of age, education level, language, gender, race, class, disability, etc.[2] Photovoice is used to gather new insights and perspectives that raise awareness of hidden or overlooked issues and aspects of a given community.[2]

In a photovoice study, participants are asked to express their points of view or represent their communities by photographing anything significant to them related to the research themes. Common research themes include community concerns, community assets, social issues, and public health barriers.[3][8] These photographs are collaboratively interpreted through discussions, often in conjunction with developed narratives that explain how the photos highlight a particular research theme.[9] These narratives are used to promote dialogue to mobilize and help policymakers better understand and change the community, thereby developing effective solutions and programs that address the issues and needs.[9][10]


Photovoice was developed in 1992 by Caroline C. Wang of the University of Michigan, and Mary Ann Burris, Program Officer for Women's Health at the Ford Foundation headquartered in Beijing, China.[3] The idea was built on the foundation that images and words together can effectively express community and individual needs, problems, and desires.[4] In addition, photovoice was strongly influenced by documentary photography, the concept of empowerment, feminist theory, and Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed to promote health education and his idea of critical consciousness.[11][12] Wang and Burris asserted that “Freire noted that one means of enabling people to think critically about their community, and to begin discussing the everyday social and political forces that influence their lives, was the visual image … Photovoice takes this concept one step further so that the images of the community are made by the people themselves.”[3]

Photovoice was first used to empower the silenced rural women in Yunnan Province, China, to influence the policies and programs affecting them.[13][14] Since then, the method has been used in different settings and populations, such as by refugees in San Diego seeking in–person medical interpretation options, by homeless adults in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 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.[15][12]

Modern implementation[edit]

Photovoice has been adopted by multiple disciplines, often used in conjunction with other Community-based and Participatory Action Research methods. In modern research, photovoice is a qualitative approach for addressing sensitive and complex issues that allows individuals to openly share their perspectives where one might otherwise be reluctant to do.[16] Photovoice is used to both to elicit and analyze data[17] in the interest knowledge dissemination and mobilization.[18] Researchers who employ photovoice offer a nuanced understanding of community issues to the scientific community. The aim of this understanding is to inform and create appropriate interventions and actions regarding complex problems including, but not limited to, health and wellbeing, social inequality, and socio-economic disparity.[19] For example, in higher education, the photovoice model has been used to teach social work students.[20] Photovoice has also been used as a tool to engage children and youth, giving them a safe environment and opportunity to communicate concerns and coping strategies to policymakers and service providers.[21][14][12] Overall, the modern implementation of photovoice is utilized to investigate a person's lived experience concerning systemic structures and social power relations and communicate this experience through a medium reaching beyond verbal communication.[7]


Also known as "participatory photography" or "photo novella", photovoice is considered a sub–type of "participatory visual methods" or 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.[22][23] An example of this is found in Project Lives, a participatory photography project used to create a new image of project housing dwellers, published in April 2015. 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.[24][25]

International development[edit]

In international research, photovoice has been seen to allow participants from the developing world to define how they want to be represented to the international community. The individuals are facilitated and given control to tell their stories and perspectives which empower them to be engaged and maintain a firm sense of authorship over their representations.[26] This helps to convey a stereotype-free picture of what it means to live in a developing country to those supporting (i.e. funders and voters of the developed country) and doing international development (i.e. NGO and government agencies).[26] In addition, photovoice allows the community to monitor the impact of the change created by development programs.[27] For example, Photovoice has been used in Bangladesh to understand local residents' traditional ecological knowledge of water in their urban environment. The photovoice method was used in the Bangaldesh research to document changes in attitude to water and natural ecosystems over time.[28] This can help inform the outside agency about the process, true impacts (what is/isn't working and why), and complex reality,[27] thus accompany wider and deeper research and analysis to improve the development progress.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ponic, Pamela; Reid, Colleen; Frisby, Wendy (9 November 2010). "Cultivating the power of partnerships in feminist participatory action research in women's health: Cultivating partnerships". Nursing Inquiry. 17 (4): 324–335. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1800.2010.00506.x. PMID 21059150.
  2. ^ a b c "Chapter 3. Assessing Community Needs and Resources | Section 20. Implementing Photovoice in Your Community | Main Section". Community Tool Box. The University of Kansas. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wang C, Burris MA (June 1997). "Photovoice: concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment". Health Education & Behavior. 24 (3): 369–387. doi:10.1177/109019819702400309. hdl:2027.42/67790. PMID 9158980. S2CID 42195431.
  4. ^ a b Nykiforuk CI, Vallianatos H, Nieuwendyk LM (January 2011). "Photovoice as a Method for Revealing Community Perceptions of the Built and Social Environment". International Journal of Qualitative Methods. 10 (2): 103–124. doi:10.1177/160940691101000201. PMC 4933584. PMID 27390573.
  5. ^ Budig K, Diez J, Conde P, Sastre M, Hernán M, Franco M (April 2018). "Photovoice and empowerment: evaluating the transformative potential of a participatory action research project". BMC Public Health. 18 (1): 432. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5335-7. PMC 5879794. PMID 29609576.
  6. ^ Frohmann, Lisa (November 2005). "The Framing Safety Project". Violence Against Women. 11 (11): 1396–1419. doi:10.1177/1077801205280271. ISSN 1077-8012. S2CID 42355756.
  7. ^ a b Bignante E (2010-02-24). "The use of photo-elicitation in field research". EchoGéo (in French) (11). doi:10.4000/echogeo.11622. ISSN 1963-1197.
  8. ^ Wang CC, Yi WK, Tao ZW, Carovano K (January 1998). "Photovoice as a participatory health promotion strategy". Health Promotion International. 13 (1): 75–86. doi:10.1093/heapro/13.1.75.
  9. ^ a b Wang CC (2013). "Using Photovoice as a participatory assessment and issue selection tool: A case study with the homeless in Ann Arbor." (PDF). In Hacker K (ed.). Community-Based Participatory Research (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4522-0581-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 September 2018.
  10. ^ Catalani C, Minkler M (June 2010). "Photovoice: a review of the literature in health and public health". Health Education & Behavior. 37 (3): 424–451. doi:10.1177/1090198109342084. PMID 19797541. S2CID 23561853.
  11. ^ Wallerstein N, Bernstein E (1988). "Empowerment education: Freire's ideas adapted to health education". Health Education Quarterly. 15 (4): 379–94. doi:10.1177/109019818801500402. PMID 3230016. S2CID 40228454.
  12. ^ a b c Strack RW, Magill C, McDonagh K (January 2004). "Engaging youth through photovoice" (PDF). Health Promotion Practice. 5 (1): 49–58. doi:10.1177/1524839903258015. PMID 14965435. S2CID 14049327.
  13. ^ Wang C, Burris MA (1994). "Empowerment through photo novella: portraits of participation". Health Education Quarterly. 21 (2): 171–86. doi:10.1177/109019819402100204. PMID 8021146. S2CID 37379263.
  14. ^ a b Kuratani DL, Lai E (2011). "TEAM Lab-Photovoice literature review" (PDF). Team lab-Tobacco Education and Materials LAB.
  15. ^ Lorenz LS (June 2012). "Brain Injury Survivors: Narratives of Rehabilitation and Healing". Visual Studies. 27 (2): 217–218. doi:10.1080/1472586X.2012.642979. S2CID 72584429.
  16. ^ Creighton, Genevieve; Oliffe, John L.; Ferlatte, Olivier; Bottorff, Joan; Broom, Alex; Jenkins, Emily K. (February 2018). "Photovoice Ethics: Critical Reflections From Men's Mental Health Research". Qualitative Health Research. 28 (3): 446–455. doi:10.1177/1049732317729137. ISSN 1049-7323. PMC 5764141. PMID 28962540.
  17. ^ Olausson, Sepideh; Lindahl, Berit (December 2022). "On photovoice—Applications and reflections to an intensive care context". Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences. 36 (4): 1123–1133. doi:10.1111/scs.13075. ISSN 0283-9318. PMC 9790407. PMID 35307842.
  18. ^ Wass, Rob; Anderson, Vivienne; Rabello, Rafaela; Golding, Clinton; Rangi, Ana; Eteuati, Esmay (2020-06-06). "Photovoice as a research method for higher education research". Higher Education Research & Development. 39 (4): 834–850. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1692791. ISSN 0729-4360. S2CID 213883635.
  19. ^ Budig, Kirsten; Diez, Julia; Conde, Paloma; Sastre, Marta; Hernán, Mariano; Franco, Manuel (2018-04-02). "Photovoice and empowerment: evaluating the transformative potential of a participatory action research project". BMC Public Health. 18 (1): 432. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5335-7. ISSN 1471-2458. PMC 5879794. PMID 29609576.
  20. ^ Oden M (September 2013). "Using Photo Voice to Teach Social Issues With Undergraduate Social Work Students". Texas Public Health Journal. 65 (4): 7–10.
  21. ^ Skovdal M (March 2011). "Picturing the coping strategies of caregiving children in Western Kenya: from images to action". American Journal of Public Health. 101 (3): 452–3. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2010.192351. PMC 3036692. PMID 21307376.
  22. ^ Baird J (November 2009). Picturevoice: Health Communication Through Art. 137st APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition. Philadelphia, PA: Society for Public Health Education.
  23. ^ Lorenz LS, Kolb B (September 2009). "Involving the public through participatory visual research methods". Health Expectations. 12 (3): 262–274. doi:10.1111/j.1369-7625.2009.00560.x. PMC 5060495. PMID 19754690.
  24. ^ Baird J (November 2009). Healthy Holidays: Lessons Learned from a Community Education Event. 137th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA: American Public Health Association.
  25. ^ Baird J (2010). Comicvoice: Community education through sequential art. St. Louis, MO: Pop Culture Association-American Culture Association.
  26. ^ a b Skovdal M, Cornish F (2015). "Chapter 6 - Photovoice: Methodology and Use". Qualitative Research for Development: A guide for practitioners. Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85339-854-4.
  27. ^ a b "PhotoVoice » Participation in Development". 16 May 2014. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  28. ^ Asad, Rumana; Vaughan, Josephine; Ahmed, Ifte; von Meding, Jason (2022). "Photo-Voice as Means to Experience Water Space: Exploring Traditional Water Knowledge in Khulna, Bangladesh". In Rodrigues, H (ed.). Resilient and Responsible Smart Cities, Advances in Science, Technology & Innovation. Springer Nature Switzerland.
  29. ^ "PhotoVoice » International Projects". Retrieved 2017-05-25.

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