The Power of Photovoice

Photovoice is a powerful tool of using photography as a way of inspiring and teaching. It’s used across continents and in a variety of contexts. Our Ibali program is based on the photovoice philosophy, and it’s proven to be an impactful concept. But what even is photovoice exactly? Here’s some background and insight into this little known concept. 
Text by Liselotte Tieman, images by Nicky Newman & Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz

Background

Photovoice was developed in China by Caroline C. Wang and Mary Ann Burris in 1992. The concept was supposed to resemble the power of the combination of words and images, which together can effectively raise attention to and awareness of social issues and express opinions, ideas, problems, needs and desires of individuals and communities. A powerful tool that was used for this concept was documentary photography. Photovoice was initially used to empower silenced rural women in China, which enabled them to voice their daily life experiences. Ever since then, photovoice has become a growing concept in which photography is used to express opinions and address serious issues. Photovoice participants have included youth, people living with an illness or disabilities, homeless people, pregnant teens and many others. It basically provides a tool for each and everyone to voice their opinion on personally perceived important matters.

Educative Role

Photovoice has grown, meaning that its opportunities to have an impact have increased as well. Universities have implied photovoice in their courses to teach students about the possibilities to express important matters, in combination with creative techniques such as collaging and drawing. Additionally, children and youth have been taught to use photography and drawings to express their ideologies, opinions and feelings. It helps them in their personal development as well as their ability to engage in societal matters.

Making a change

Photovoice is also a tool that is often used in developing areas. People living in such areas often don’t have the knowledge, resources and money to be able to express their opinions or to address problems in their environment. Photovoice can have a great impact for them. Teaching people the power of photography, or having their environment photographed enables these people to tell their story, to show the world their environment and to raise awareness for serious topics that need to be discussed. It additionally can be used as a tool to reach governmental institutions and policy makers, to influence decision-making processes.

The Ibali Project

Last year the pilot project ‘Ibali’ was launched in collaboration with photographer Dave Fisher. During this project photo voice plays an important role. ‘The photography workshops are an opportunity for the students to gain a skill, to use the camera as a tool to explore their world and what matters most to them, as well as a way for them to introspect (to turn the camera inwards) and understand themselves better’, says Dave Fisher, ‘the workshops also bring students together and create a platform for discussion with each other and potentially with others across the world, with a particular focus on addressing social issues’. Additionally, using photography as a method of reaching a broader goal is a very important aspect of the Ibali project. According to Dave photography is a form of creative expression, that allows us the opportunity to view the world from a perspective we hadn’t previously done so. ‘Photography exposes things that were previously hidden from view and places them before us in a way that compels us to look more deeply. The Ibali workshop is collaborative in nature and is designed to bring students together so they can work on a common theme or project.’

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