Photovoice part 1: What is Photovoice and why is it valuable?

Photovoice is a unique tool that can be used to give youth a voice in their community, while supporting their development through creative expression.

The proverb, "a picture is worth one thousand words," is one ingrained in our memory banks. The prevalence of technology that allows us to photograph and share our day-to-day lives, makes pictures a widely accessible tool to use in telling a story. Photovoice is one way to take that storytelling one step further.

By definition, Photovoice is a process that primarily engages marginalized populations in shooting photographs or videos of their surrounding environment to share their perspectives. Emerging from a hybrid of theories, the five concepts of Photovoice are images teach, pictures can influence policy, an image of healthy public policy should be shaped/defined by community members, people of power and influence should be the target audience, and this process emphasizes community action.

Michigan State University Extension supports and facilitates programs that help youth work in partnership with adults, develop youth skills to become active, culturally competent citizens and empower young people with the tools and knowledge to create positive change in their communities. In terms promoting the voices of historically undervalued populations, Photovoice has great potential when used with youth. When properly nurtured, educated and engaged, youth serve as a great asset to any community. The ideas and perspectives of young people are often (unfortunately) discounted by adults as “childish” or unrealistic.  However, when viewed in a positive light, the ideas and perspectives of young people have a great capacity for generating new and innovative solutions to problems. Youth have this capacity precisely because of their fresh, unique point of view on their reality and community. When expectations are low, what is the motivation to go above and beyond? We need to help our youth cultivate their creative and critical thinking skills, so that they grow into empowered and adaptive adults. If they are the future, why shouldn't they have a voice in the present?

Giving youth the opportunity to express themselves creatively through photographs subsequently increases their own self-confidence and eagerness to tackle new challenges. Setting a foundation of positive self-worth by emphasizing that their voice and perspective are valuable can increase their future desire to actively participate in their communities.

Let's recap. Youth see both beauty and opportunity where others do not. When prompted, they often have innovative ideas to create positive change in their communities. Photovoice gives youth an opportunity to share their perspective (i.e. their voices) within their communities through visual arts. Individuals of influence should be the primary audience as they are the people who have the power to create change. Part 2 of this series will explore how to utilize Photovoice as a tool with your communities' youth. 

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