The following material is from the Photovoice website prepare by Carolyn Wang.





Photovoice has three main goals:

      to enable people to record and reflect their community's strengths and concerns;

      to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about personal and community issues through large and small group discussions of photographs; and

      to reach policy makers.


Photovoice is highly flexible and can be adapted to specific participatory goals (such as needs assessment, asset mapping, and evaluation), different groups and communities, and distinct policy and public health issues.



The stages of photovoice include:

      conceptualizing the problem

      defining broader goals and objectives

      recruiting policy makers as the audience for photovoice findings

      training the trainers

      conducting photovoice training

      devising the initial theme/s for taking pictures

      taking pictures

      facilitating group discussion

      critical reflection and dialogue

      selecting photographs for discussion

      contextualizing and storytelling

      codifying issues, themes, and theories

      documenting the stories

      conducting the formative evaluation

      reaching policy makers, donors, media, researchers, and others who may be mobilized to create change

      conducting participatory evaluation of policy and program implementation


Community Training and Process

The first photovoice training begins with a discussion of cameras, ethics, and power; ways of seeing photographs; and a philosophy of giving photographs back to community members as a way of expression appreciation, respect, or camaraderie. The curriculum may then move to address mechanical aspects of camera use.


Community people using photovoice engage in a three-stage process that provides the foundation for analyzing the pictures they have taken:

 1.    Selecting choosing those photographs that most accurately reflect the community's concerns and assets


The participatory approach dictates this first stage. So that people can lead the discussion, it is they who choose the photographs. They select photographs they considered most significant, or simply like best, from each roll of film they had taken.


 2.    Contextualizing telling stories about what the photographs mean


The participatory approach also generates the second stage, contextualizing or storytelling. This occurs in the process of group discussion, suggested by the acronym VOICE, voicing our individual and collective experience. Photographs alone, considered outside the context of their own voices and stories, would contradict the essence of photovoice. People describe the meaning of their images in small and large group discussions.


 3.    Codifying identifying the issues, themes, or theories that emerge


The participatory approach gives multiple meanings to singular images and thus frames the third stage, codifying. In this stage, participants may identify three types of dimensions that arise from the dialogue process: issues, themes, or theories.


They may codify issues when the concerns targeted for action are pragmatic, immediate, and tangible. This is the most direct application of the analysis. They may also codify themes and patterns, or develop theories that are grounded in data that have been systematically gathered and analyzed in collective discussion.



Photovoice turns on involving people in defining issues. Such an approach avoids the distortion of fitting data into a predetermined paradigm; through it we hear and understand how people make meaning themselves, or construct what matters to them. Photovoice, to paraphrase Glik, Gordon, Ward, Kouame, and Guessan, is not simply the shuffling of information around, but entails people reflecting on their own community portraits and voices and on what questions can be linked into more general constructs or can be seen to be interrelated. It is a method that enables people to define for themselves and others, including policy makers, what is worth remembering and what needs to be changed.

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Critical Consciousness

First, education for critical consciousness developed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire promotes individual change, the community's quality of life, and policy changes aimed at achieving social equity. In Freirian terms, one medium that can be used to reflect the community back upon itself, and to reveal the everyday social and political realities that influence people's lives, is photography.


Photovoice takes this principle one step further and specifies that the photographic portrayals of the community be generated by people at the grassroots level. Just as Freire developed word lists for literacy classes forged from the life experiences of his students, so photovoice's curriculum is the photographic image of daily life as depicted by community people. Initially, facilitated group discussions encourage participants to analyze critically and collectively the social conditions that contribute to and detract from their personal and their community's well-being.


The pedagogy is problem-based and contextual; the knowledge that emerges is practical and directed toward action.


Feminist Theory

Second, feminist theory and method is characterized by an appreciation of women's subjective experience, a recognition of the significance of that experience, and political commitment. An appreciation of women's subjective experience as researchers, advocates, and participants, builds on the understanding that feminist theory and practice carry out policies by and with women instead of on women, in ways that empower people, honor women's intelligence, and value knowledge grounded in experience. The choice to promote personal and community health through an educational practice that revolves around community people's documentary images draws on the feminist influence that takes account of power, representation, and voice in relation to gender. Recognizing the significance of women's experience values the importance of personal and everyday experience. In photovoice, people first represent their lives to themselves and to one another, thereby identifying common ground. Collective knowledge, and then action, arise from the shared experiences of a group and an understanding of the dominating institutions that affect their lives. The union of feminist theory and policy gives birth to political commitment.


Community people's participation in policy dialogue is an important but elusive ideal. Their taking part increases the likelihood that policy and program aims will reflect their needs and be more effective. Because virtually anyone can learn to use a camera, photovoice may be particularly powerful not only for women, but also for workers, children, peasants, people who do not read or write in the dominant language, and people with socially stigmatized health conditions or status. It recognizes that such people often have an expertise and insight into their own communities and worlds that professionals and outsiders lack.


Documentary Photography

Finally, a community-based and policy-relevant approach to documentary photography infuse the photovoice concept and method. Photovoice provides cameras to people who might otherwise not have access to such a tool, so that they may record and catalyze change in their communities, rather than stand as passive subjects of other people's intentions and images. At the same time, historic and contemporary uses of documentary photography have informed the photovoice approach. The term "documentary photography" has been used to describe an immense array of visual styles, genres, and commitments. Roy Stryker, Chief of the Historical Section of the Depression-era U.S. Farm Security Administration, shaped one of the most well known contributions of documentary photography. He dispatched a staff of photographers, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Ben Shahn, to capture the relationship between rural poverty and improper land use, the decline of the small farming community, and the growth of urban decay. Documentary photography has been characterized as the social conscience presented in visual imagery. Stryker has provided a simple, broad, and powerful definition of documentary photography: "the things to be said in the language of pictures."


Other Documentary Efforts

One of the earliest and most famous efforts to enable indigenous people to produce their own images was initiated by Sol Worth and John Adair. In 1972, they wrote Through Navajo Eyes, an analysis of their experience training Navajo citizens to film their social world. As Feitosa has noted, however, Through Navajo Eyes reflected the interests of the researchers rather than those of the Navajos. By contrast, during the past several decades, the Mekaron Opoi Doi project with the Kayapo Indians of Brazil has been a landmark effort to reshape the documentary form. The project has "had as its goal enabling the Kayapo to produce their own videos according to their interests and needs" (emphasis in the original).


In expanding immensely the practice of documentary photography, Wendy Ewald'sPortraits and Dreams presented the images and words of Appalachian youth who portrayed their everyday lives. In line with this trend, the photographer Jim Hubbard has described teaching and learning alongside homeless children who are "shooting back" with cameras.


Jo Spence's Photography Workshop in Britain has helped to stretch the boundaries within which community groups, labor and women's movements, and adult educators can move "toward a better understanding of the progressive potential for making and using photographs." Spence explicitly attempted to encourage peasants and workers "to open up for discussion the social, political, institutional, and subjective spaces which we occupy daily." Further, Robert S. Young has promoted citizen participation by having junior high school students photograph the basic structure of their local school system and discuss how they would go about influencing leaders and making a change they believed in. And Deborah Roter and colleagues as well as Harvard University's Rima Rudd and John P. Comings have described a process by which community members help craft health education text and photographs based on Freirian principles.




Best Practices

Be aware of, and execute ways to minimize, participants' risks, including physical harm and loss of privacy to themselves or their community. Put another way, participants' safety and well-being are paramount.


Facilitators should:

   describe during group discussions the participants' responsibilities when they carry a camera to respect the privacy and rights of others;

   facilitate critical dialogue that yields specific suggestions and ways to respect others' privacy and rights; and

   emphasize that no picture is worth taking if it begets the photographer harm or ill will.


The photovoice approach involves obtaining written consent from participants (and, if appropriate, parent or guardian). In addition, participants are asked to obtain written consentfrom the people they photograph. This has some drawbacks it sometimes yields stiff, less spontaneous pictures but experience has shown that the drawbacks are outweighed by the advantages: preventing misunderstanding and building trust by giving participants an opportunity to describe the project and solicit the subjects' own insights about a community issue; establishing the possibility of a long-term relationship that may allow for future photographs and exchange of knowledge; and acquiring written consent to use the photographs to promote community wellness.


The first workshop never begins with the distribution of camera but with an introduction to the photovoice concept and method. It starts with group discussion about cameras, power, and ethics, potential risks to participants, how to minimize these risks, and the practice of giving photographs back to community members to express appreciation, respect, or camaraderie.


Shared questions might include the following:

   What is an acceptable way to approach someone to take their picture?

   Should someone take pictures of other people without their knowledge?

   What kind of responsibility does carrying a camera confer?

   What would you not want to be photographed doing?

   To whom might you wish to give photographs, and what might be the implications?


Frequently Asked Questions


How can I get funding to do a photovoice project?

One approach is to apply for foundation support. Foundation-supported photovoice projects have been framed to match foundation interest areas such as the arts, women's studies, reproductive health and development, community development, community health, and innovation.


Federal support may be available from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Federal support from health agencies may be more plausible when the photovoice proposal is linked to a larger demonstration project or multi-method project.


What kinds of cameras should participants use?

To answer this question, it is helpful to ask more two questions: "What kind of cameras would participants prefer to use?" and "What is feasible and practical for us?" Kinds of cameras used in past and current photovoice projects include autorewind, autofocus cameras; disposable cameras; and Holga cameras.


How can one get materials and supplies, such as cameras, donated?

For camera donations, one can send a letter of request to the manufacturer. The letter should spell out the purpose of the project, anticipated benefits to the community, and specific resources needed. When there is limited time to seek out donations, one often can obtain discount bulk rates from retailers for purchases of film, cameras, developing, and photo albums.


What is the ideal number of participants?

8-12 people is an ideal number, and works well for group discussion. If a larger number of participants are involved, a best practice is to organize two or more gropus with about 8-12 people per group.




Photovoice: A Participatory Action Research Strategy Applied to Women's Health. Journal of Women's Health, 8 (2):185-192, 1999.


Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment

Wang CC, Burris MA.

Health Education and Behavior, 24(3): 369-387, 1997.  Per RA422.5.H4


Photovoice is a process by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique. As a practice based in the production of knowledge, photovoice has three main goals: (1) to enable people to record and reflect their community's strengths and concerns; (2) to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important issues through large and small group discussion of photographs; and (3) to reach policymakers. Applying photovoice to public health promotion, we describe the methodology and analyze its value for participatory needs assessment. We discuss the development of the photovoice concept, advantages and disadvantages, key elements, participatory analysis, materials and resources, and implications for practice.


Empowerment through Photovoice: Portraits of Participation

 Wang C, Burris MA.

Health Education Quarterly, 21 (2): 171-186, 1994.  Per RA422.5.H4


Photovoice (formerly photo novella) does not entrust cameras to health specialists, policymakers, or professional photographers, but puts them in the hands of children, rural women, grassroots workers, and other constituents with little access to those who make decisions over their lives. Promoting what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has termed "education for critical consciousness," photovoice allows people to document and discuss their life conditions as they seem them. The process of empowerment education also enables community members with little money, power, or status to communicate to policymakers where change must occur. This paper describes photovoice's underpinnings: empowerment education, feminist theory, and documentary photography. It draws on our experience implementing the process among 62 rural Chinese women, and shows that two major implications of photovoice are its contributions to changes in consciousness and informing policy.