Marquette Photovoice Project lets the community see through the eyes of its youth

The Art of Teen Leadership: Marquette Photovoice Project engaged youth in expressing their perspectives on issues they think are important in the community using photography as the medium.

Through The Eyes of Our Youth: Marquette Photovoice Project exhibit poster. Poster created by Brian Wibby, photo in poster by Sierra Bentti.
Through The Eyes of Our Youth: Marquette Photovoice Project exhibit poster. Poster created by Brian Wibby, photo in poster by Sierra Bentti.

How does a community look different from the perspective of its youth? What do young people see as the features that make their community great, and what are some aspects they think could be better? These are the questions that led to the creation and implementation of The Art of Teen Leadership: Marquette Photovoice Project in the fall of 2017.

The program, led by the youth development staff from the Michigan State University Extension office in Marquette County, was designed to develop valuable leadership and community engagement skills among teen participants. This was done by engaging participants in a photography project that asked them to document the strengths and opportunities for change in their community.

The project was based on the concept of photovoice, a participatory action research method developed in the 1990s by Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris. According to Wang and Burris, the three main goals of photovoice are “to enable people to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns; to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important community issues through large and small group discussion of photographs; and to reach policy makers.”

The Marquette Photovoice Project taught photography skills to youth participants and provided a venue for participants to express their point of view to community leaders as a way to influence positive social and community change that takes into account a youth perspective.

The Art of Teen Leadership: Marquette Photovoice Project was conducted between October and December 2017 and was led by MSU Extension educators Brian Wibby and Liana Graves and Marquette-based photographer Lali Khalid. The project facilitators met biweekly over a 12-week period with a group of eight youth participants from Marquette and Alger counties who ranged in age from 11 to 17.

Participants were prepared for taking their project photos by the facilitators through discussion, dialogue and training around the topics of youth leadership, youth definitions and concepts of community, photography skills and how photography can be used as a means to tell a story. The youth participants also brainstormed and shared ideas for the stories they wanted to share about their community's strengths and concerns during meetings.

After these preliminary meetings, youth participants spent four weeks taking photographs of the aspects of the community that they wanted to highlight through the project. The participants shared their work during meetings and the group engaged in guided discussions about the photographs, which helped each photographer select the images they would include in a public exhibit. The participants wrote captions to accompany each of the photos selected for the public exhibit. The captions allowed the photographers to communicate to the public their perspective on what was happening in each of the images, what the image tells us about life the community, and what, if anything, should be done to improve life in the community.

Four participants chose to have their photographs featured in the public exhibit titled “Through The Eyes of Our Youth: The Marquette Photovoice Project,” which was on display at the City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center from Nov. 27 through Dec. 5. The youth spoke about their photographs with members of the community during an opening reception that was held at the Center on Nov. 27.

The photographs on display at the exhibit highlighted the importance of food and agriculture, community development, health and safety, the natural environment, and interpersonal relationships to the group of photographers. Through their photos, public presentations and photo captions, the youth shared how these topics affect their lives and the community in which they live. They also expressed their desire for changes they think would make the greater Marquette community even better.

To learn more about the four photographers whose work was featured in the exhibit, and to see some of their images, continue reading the next articles in this series.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016 can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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