This study uses visual engagement and critical reflection to explore how public spaces, personal responses, and social encounters have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) project that asks people to submit photos and captions in order to document and analyze their experiences and challenges due to effects of COVID-19. GREETINGS COVIDIANS uses an adapted virtual version of the PhotoVoice methodology as its foundation.
Generally, PhotoVoice is a CBPR methodology focused on empowerment and critical analysis. The three main goals of the PhotoVoice methodology are to: “(1) to enable people to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns, (2) to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important community issues through large and small scale group discussions of photographs, and (3) to reach policymakers and promote positive social change” (Wang and Burris, 1997: 370). A typical PhotoVoice project incorporates five broad steps divided into two key phases: classroom training and field work (see Figure 1). Depending on the project, each of the steps can be divided into individual or multiple meetings between community member participants and researchers/facilitators. For GREETINGS COVIDIANS, we decided to forego directed trainings and open the opportunity to submit photos and participate in this living gallery to as broad a population as possible.
When conducting a more focused application of the PhotoVoice methodology - with a smaller group - much of the trainings involve an analysis technique called the SHOWED method (see Figure 2). This is a series of questions that the photographer/participant asks themselves during and after taking the photograph and during the title/caption writing process. Through answering these questions and applying them to the photo/caption, the participant more effectively and more profoundly analyzes the broader social circumstances which create the conditions depicted in the photo/caption. This provides a more powerful representation of the strengths or concerns presented through the final submission.
To simplify some of the questions offered in the SHOWED method, some of the researchers in the GREETINGS COVIDIANS team have developed the OAA Format (see Figure 3). Similar to the SHOWED method, these are questions that the photographer/participant should ask themselves to ensure that the photo illustrates the message they want to convey and has the possibility of reaching and impacting policymakers.
The PhotoVoice process is usually iterative and participatory, meaning the participants submit photos and then conduct analysis workshops with the researchers/facilitators and the other participants, before going back to the field to take more photos and improve the commentary they are trying to make. Community pedagogy and “praxis” inform such approaches (see Freire, 1993), and seek to empower community members to think critically about their experiences both within their own communities and in broader society. As Padilla et al. (2019) explain, “Photovoice is beneficial to ethnographic research because it allows people to express their daily life-worlds in a language that is beyond the purely verbal, and to think critically about their worlds in the process of uncovering their hidden or implicit logics” (p. 152). The methodology has been used across an array of topic themes including community rebuilding, health promotion, living with disabilities or illnesses, among others (see Hergenrather et al., 2009).
GREETINGS COVIDIANS is a novel adaptation of the PhotoVoice methodology. Again, we are not conducting training workshops nor analysis meetings with the majority of the participants. Instead, our goal is to reach a broad sample base and work to extrapolate key themes that emerge regarding the ways that COVID-19 has impacted different lived social experiences. In these opening stages of the process, we are drawing from a grounded theory approach to discover patterns in the photos/captions and to identify repetition, changes, similarities, or differences in the topic areas covered by the submissions. In future iterations of the project, we may choose to form smaller groups of participants to more deeply analyze key findings from the initial stages of this project.
Freire P (1993) Pedagoy of the Oppressed. London, UK: Continuum Publishing Company.
Hergenrather KC, Rhodes SD, Cowan C a, et al. (2009) Photovoice as Community-Based Participatory Research: a Qualitative Review. American Journal of Health Behavior 33(6): 686–698. DOI: 10.5993/AJHB.33.6.6.
Padilla M, Matiz-Reyes A, Colón-Burgos JF, et al. (2019) Adaptation of PhotoVoice methodology to promote policy dialog among street-based drug users in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Arts and Health 11(2): 147–162. DOI: 10.1080/17533015.2018.1444647.
Wang CC and Burris MA (1997) Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment. Health Education & Behavior 24(3): 369–387.