Speak with photos

Photo voice is a participatory method by which people can have their voice heard in a community.

How can a picture talk?

There is a common saying that “a photo can express more than thousand words”. With a photo you can express not only facts and reality, but also reactions, emotions, relations and relationships. Actually, with a photo you can also lie. And do that even better than by words.

Photos are important type of messaging and communicating of today. With smartphones especially young people take photos and make short videos of their everyday life: what they eat, where and with whom they are spending time and what they do. A life is a not chocolate box, like Forrest Gump says, but a picture book.

What is the aim of the method?

Photo voice is a method which was developed by a researchers Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris from Michigan University already in 1997. Photo voice method is a process by which people can identify, record and change their living environment and their communities. The method consists of three main objectives:

 to enable people to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns,

– to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important issues through large and small group discussion of photographs, and

– to reach policymakers to induce change in their communities.  (Wang & Burris 1997, 369.)

How is the method used?

Wang and Burris used the method first with rural Chinese women. The women were given cameras to photograph their everyday living. Rural women, who seldom are not seen or heard in their communities, became visual anthropologist. Photographing, sharing them and discussing about them can enhance people’s awareness of common concerns and empower for taking actions to influence decision makers.

But, as it is noted e.g. by Linda Liebenberg (2018), to reach this goal, is a challenge. Taking photos is not enough, and not even discussing about them is not enough to induce change. What is required is something that would follow after the process: how are the photos exhibited, for whom and how?

But, though acknowledging the concerns, photo voice can be a meaningful way to have say, to express views, concerns and wishes.

In Making my future -project, we will use photo voice as one of the methods to give young adults a tool to express what they think are the common concerns and on the other hand common assets in their own communities, and what should be done about them.

Follow this blog and then you will see more and hear how photos can really talk!

Ulla-Maija Koivula, project manager


Wang, C. & Burris, M. A. 1997. Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment. Health Education and Behavior, Vol 24: 369-387.

Liebenberg, L. 2018. Thinking Critically About Photovoice: Achieving Empowerment and Social Change. International Journal of Qualitative Methods Volume 17: 1–9