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Pictures often express what words cannot quite communicate. HPDP researchers are using the photovoice method to work with communities and offer training to other researchers and community members.

Photovoice is a community-based participatory research (CBPR) method that puts cameras into the hands of community members to explore issues and questions important to them.

Developed by public health researcher Caroline Wang, the photovoice process enables people to reflect on their communities’ strengths and concerns, promotes dialogue and new knowledge through discussion of the photographs, and mobilizes action by reaching out to influential advocates through exhibitions and public forums.  Photovoice is a useful tool for bringing the voices and perspectives of community members to the table and for shaping research according to the concerns and questions of the community.

Alexandra Lightfoot, HPDP Assistant Director for CBPR and Eugenia Eng, senior advisor to the HPDP CBPR Core, recently used photovoice to introduce community members to CBPR. Lightfoot and Eng traveled to Rocky Mount on March 10 and Burlington on March 12 to conduct workshops organized by the Carolina Community Network (CCN).

Eng used a photo of what seems to be a pile of trash to explain how the method generates dialogue and new knowledge among participants in a photovoice project. Taken by a breast cancer survivor, the photo depicts the cans she saved to help pay for her treatment after losing her job. Eng led the workshop group through a guided discussion of the photo called SHOWED, which leads from the basic question of what they see in the photograph, to interpretation and connection with their own lives, and finally to a discussion of what actions they might be able to take given the new understanding they have developed as a group.

The CCN invited community members with little or no research experience to the workshops to help them learn about research opportunities available through the network. Workshop attendees said the workshop opened their eyes to new possibilities within their communities.

“I learned more about understanding research,” said Kelly Andrews, Pastor of Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church and a participant at the Burlington workshop. “The situation is quite vast, but it is important to connect people with the data that is out there.”

Men as Navigators (MAN) for Health, a project Eng recently completed at HPDP, used photovoice to evaluate the experiences of lay health advisors (or Navigators) who worked for the project. The lay health advisors took photographs to provide insights into why African American men hesitate to use preventive health care services, and Eng shared the project’s findings in the workshops.

“I enjoyed learning about the lay health advisors,” said Lavern Perscell, Director of the New Faith Community Development Center in Knightdale. “I think we can use that approach to reach more of our community members in rural areas.”

The North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (TraCS) Institute co-sponsored the workshops, and HPDP hopes to partner with TraCS for future trainings in other parts of North Carolina. Eng and Lightfoot also teach a course in CBPR and photovoice for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in the department of Health Behavior and Health Education.

Photovoice can be used in many different research areas. HPDP Director Alice Ammerman and Project Director Lara Khalil developed photo-based inquiry for the Healthy Eating and Active Living Research study. Photo-based inquiry is similar to photovoice, but modified for middle school students to use photographs to document their perceptions about the food environment in their schools.

Members of the Rogers-Eubanks Coalition to End Environmental Racism (CEER) discussed their work with photovoice as part of a recent CBPR Seminar hosted by HPDP. In this project, community members used old and new photographs to describe the history of their community and build support for protecting their neighborhood from environmental racism. The Carrboro Citizen published an article about the seminar.

To learn more about HPDP’s photovoice activities and training opportunities, please contact Alexandra Lightfoot at

DateMarch 25, 2009

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