PhotoVoice: The Power of Photos in One Community
By Kendra Gallegos Reichle, MS
Dragon Youth Project Coordinator
San Juan Basin Health Department
PhotoVoice is an action research method in which community members are supplied with cameras and asked to document the realities of life in the community. The resulting photos, which record both strengths and areas of concern in the community, are used to raise awareness about important issues and encourage dialogue about them.
A few state maternal and child health programs, such as California and Rhode Island, have used the PhotoVoice technique as part of their on-going Title V needs assessment processes to identify priority community concerns. Local health programs are using PhotoVoice as well, including the San Juan Basin Health Department in Colorado. The local health department was a member of the Colorado team that participated in the AMCHP and NACCHO “Evidence-based Approaches to Teen Pregnancy Prevention – Moving Interest to Action” project.
Kendra Gallegos Reichle, coordinator of the San Juan Basin Health Department's Dragon Youth Project, used PhotoVoice to document the realities of youth living in rural communities, particularly the lack of resources that may contribute to experimentation with risky behaviors that can result in teen pregnancy. Originally intended to be part of the community needs assessment process to help identify an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program that could be implemented in the community, the project took on a life of its own - as a teen pregnancy prevention program.
“When I first started working on the PhotoVoice project, I had a lot of expectations about what it should look like. But after more research and a better understanding it became clear to me that PhotoVoice isn’t as structured as other forms of community assessment. Instead it is encouraged to “go with the flow” and see what comes up. So when it was time to form the team of high school students in charge of the PhotoVoice assessment, I let them take the lead and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome! The teens (who named themselves the EPIC TEAM – Every Pregnancy Is Considered Through Every Aspect of the Mind), became incredibly enthusiastic about the project and the process truly helped them recognize the lack of resources in their community (rural Colorado) available to help them make healthy choices.
The photos taken were simple, but the power behind these photos and the articulate messages created by these teens were eye opening. Some examples of photos taken include: a park, which was explained as one of the abundant resources available to younger kids in the community, while high school aged kids are left with no resources; a package of condoms at the check out line at the grocery store, which was explained to be one of the only places to purchase contraceptives in the community, which can be quite embarrassing when the cashier is someone’s mom or a peer from school in such a small town; and an aunt, whom one of the girls considers a great support and role model (and was also a teen mom), which pointed out the importance of family as support, especially in a small community such as ours.
Many of the team members were not those typically involved in tons of school activities, so participating in an activity like this was a big step. The creative outlet offered by PhotoVoice appealed to these teens who might normally not have given a second thought to the fact that teens are getting pregnant in their school and nothing is being done about it. They have presented the PhotoVoice locally, as well as at a statewide conference. Sitting back and watching the team bring their message to others and sharing their “photos with a voice” has been such an experience! The energy they bring is contagious, and their ability to speak about teen pregnancy related issues in a straightforward and honest manner is incredibly real. Sometimes this startles people, especially adults, and may catch them off guard. In my opinion, that is a good thing! This means that conversations that need to happen are getting started, no matter how uncomfortable the subject is!
The awareness the teens involved in PhotoVoice raised in them by taking these photos was tremendous, as was the awareness brought forth to a community that had yet to start talking about addressing issues such as teen pregnancy and the lack of resources available to help teens make healthy choices. As the school year ends, and the EPIC TEAM says goodbye to its two senior members, it is clear that the PhotoVoice project lives on, both in the powerful photos and their messages, and in the community. Last month, we received an invitation to join a group of citizens interested in creating a youth center for middle and high school aged kids in our community, which was one of the main recommendations that came out of the PhotoVoice project. The EPIC TEAM and I are ecstatic – the movement is moving forward! But there is still work to be done, and I think it’s time we took out our cameras again!”