What is photovoice?

Photovoice* is an important part of the Feeling at Home project. You might be wondering what it is all about.

The clue is in the name! Photovoice is a research method where people tell their stories, share their experiences and work towards improving their lives through photography.  This method was created by two researchers called Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris in the 1990s.  They were doing research with women in rural China and decided to use photography with their participants so that women could capture and reflect on key issues in their everyday lives.  Since then, photovoice has been used as a research method with many other groups who may struggle to get their voices heard by policy makers and in the political arena.

Photovoice — Frequently Asked Questions

Why use photography?

A key principle of photovoice is that ‘images teach’.  Photographs can show aspects of people’s everyday lives that are hidden or overlooked.  The person taking the photo can focus on what is important to them and document this for others to see and take note of.

Is photovoice suitable for people with learning disabilities?

Yes.  The approach works well with people who might otherwise struggle to use words to explain what is important to them.

Do participants get training to take photos?

Yes.  When people come together in photovoice groups the first few sessions focus on how to take photographs, understanding the ethics of taking photos in shared and public spaces and including people in photos.  We also practice ‘reading’ photographs – understanding how photographic techniques can be selected to tell a more impactful story, and reflecting on how photos can affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

What cameras do participants use?

We give each participant an easy to use ‘point and shoot’ digital camera.  This is theirs to keep.

How can people with higher support needs be involved in photovoice?

Some people might not be able to handle a camera on their own.  For them, taking photos will be more of a shared project with the person, a supporter and a researcher joining with the person, following their verbal and non-verbal indications of what they are interested in to guide decisions about what to photograph.

Photovoice is identified as ‘participatory action research’ (PAR).  What does this mean?

In our project the participants do not just take the photos and then hand them over to the academic researchers to make sense of.  The process of interpreting and making collective meaning from the photos is co-produced by the participants and the researchers in a collaborative process in the photovoice groups.  The focus is on identifying the participants’ priorities for change – deciding what elements shown in the photographs need to be improved.

How can photovoice projects influence policy and practice?

An important part of the Feeling at Home project will be a public exhibition of the participants’ photos. Participants will decide on a caption for each of their photos to help viewers understand what the photograph means.  We will invite policy makers, practitioners, and other service users and their supporters to the exhibition which will also be open to the public and will travel to other sites around the country.  The power of the exhibition will be the way it provides a view into the everyday living environments of people with learning disabilities – spaces that are usually ‘hidden’ behind closed doors. People who come to the exhibition will have the opportunity to add their own responses to what they see and think about what changes need to be made.

In our project the outputs from the photovoice groups and exhibition will be resources for residential support staff and policy makers to help them bring about the changes that our participants want to see in their lives.

How can I find out more about photovoice?

We will be completing a review of research that has used photovoice with people with learning disabilities as part of the Feeling at Home project.  You can find a list of photovoice research articles in the Resources section, but a great place to start is this article by Linda Liebenberg.  If you want to talk to us about your own photovoice project, please get in touch!

*In this blog I am talking about photovoice, which is a research method increasingly used in health and social care research.  I would like to distinguish this method from the trademarked name used by the PhotoVoice charity (www.PhotoVoice.org) which provides training and undertakes community projects using this approach.  They are a fantastic organisation and we are very grateful for the training and advice they have provided to the Feeling at Home research team.