About Photovoices

Philosophy Behind the Photovoices Process

Philosophy Behind the Photovoices Process

Marvels such as drawings in the caves at Lascaux and rock art in the Grand Canyon provide powerful testament: since earliest times man has reached out to tell his own story. In today’s world, the voices of people, who have lived for generations in these special places and have much to teach us, are too often ignored.

But a countercurrent has developed among those who passionately believe that the pressing problems facing our planet—from alleviating poverty to protecting the environment—will only be solved by bringing together local people and their indigenous knowledge with 21st century expertise.

Photovoices rests on the belief that scientists, government leaders and international problem solvers have much to learn from men and women whose ancestors have inhabited these areas for untold years: living and working, farming and fishing, raising their children, practicing their rituals and worshipping their gods.

Strategies are far more effective when they incorporate indigenous knowledge, understand and honor sacred geography and spiritual practices and build partnerships with people based on understanding and respect.

But then a complex question always arises: how to engage these people effectively. Many live in remote regions, some speak only their ethnic language and few have had any opportunities to communicate their knowledge and values to the outside world.

Photovoices International applies a specific methodology –using village photography and storytelling about the pictures– to bring people and their indigenous knowledge.to help save our planet and to improve quality of life.

Photovoices Provides:
  • A concrete way for local people to document what they value about nature, culture and village life and to record community concerns and strengths;
  • An innovative participatory method to empower local people with visual community-based information to inform and influence decisions;
  • A powerful visual art form to educate people around the world about the value of biological and cultural diversity in a rapidly changing world.

“Photovoices informs the conservation process in many ways. Appreciation of ethnic and religious traditions is key. Ongoing mapping of the Yunnan Great Rivers Project, for instance, now incorporates an overlay of Tibetan Buddhist sites. Natural areas considered sacred to local people may have built-in protection; others may require different conservation strategies.”

~The Nature Conservancy Magazine Winter 2005

Photovoices has received inspiration, ideas and methodologies from the pioneering work of Caroline Wang of the University of Michigan School of Public Health,Marianne Burris of the Ford Foundation and Wendy Ewald of the Literacy through Photography Project

Photovoices empowers people through photography using a specific methodology and

working in partnership with organizations that seek local information in order to make better decisions.

1. Length of Projects. Each Photovoices project lasts between six months and one year with each photographer taking 30-50 digital photographs each month.

2. Training. The local photographers receive training in how to use the camera and the basics of good photography.

3. Taking Pictures. Through their photographs, the people create visual documentation about nature, culture, village life and other issues of interest or concern such as agriculture, health care and water resources.

4. Stories behind the Photographs. The value of the photography is greatly enhanced by the stories the people tell about their pictures. Facilitators, working in pairs, meet with the Photovoices photographers each month to discuss the pictures–writing down the stories and downloading photographs along with the stories on the computer. Others in the community are also engaged in the conversations and encouraged to give their ideas about the pictures.

5. Providing Local Information to Decision Makers. The photographs and the information produced through the stories are provided to scientists, government officials, international NGOs, economic development experts, anthropologists and others to help ensure that local views and indigenous knowledge are available to inform discussions and influence decisions.

6. Meetings Between Local Photographers and Experts. One effective strategy is to have the local people present the photographs and stories at a joint meeting with decision makers and other experts so questions can be discussed and the information elaborated on through direct conversations.

7. Village Exhibitions. At least once during the project, exhibits are held in the village to honor the local photographers, and to provide the opportunity for others in the community to add their own stories about the pictures.

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