The University Record, November 6, 2000

Cameras give new voice to Flint

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

City policy-makers and participants in a public health research project called “photovoice” recently met in Flint to unveil Strength To Be: Community Visions And Voices, a pictorial book of the Flint project. The project is headed by Caroline Wang, assistant professor of public health and the project’s principal investigator.

Photovoice puts cameras into the hands of people who live in the community. Mothers in rural China, homeless people in Ann Arbor and residents of Flint have participated in photovoice projects developed and directed by Wang. The concept is simple: community members document on camera the everyday lives of their family, friends and neighbors; discuss health and social policy issues captured by the content of the photographs; and talk with policy-makers about changes they feel are necessary.

“What scientists, policy-makers and outsiders think is important may completely fail to match what the community thinks is important,” says Wang, who later this month will receive the Early Career Award of the American Public Health Association (APHA) at its annual meeting in Boston. Wang is being honored for her significant contributions to public health through the development of the photovoice methodology.

The photovoice project is intended to lead to new public policy and social change based on the issues identified by the community photographers.

“When we recruit photovoice participants, we also recruit policy-makers who have the power to make change,” Wang explains. “Our goal is to involve policy-makers throughout the course of each project, so that they’ll have a better understanding of the issues identified by community members.”

In China, women who live in the rural province of Yunnan photographed the daily lives of the family, neighbors and friends, capturing images of children playing alone or unsupervised while their mothers worked. Childcare services have since been made available to the people in Yunnan Province. Photos from the project in China were published in Visual Voices: 100 Photographs of Village China by the Women of Yunnan Province.

“Photovoice embraces the principles that images teach; pictures can influence policy, and citizens ought to participate in creating and defining images that make healthful public policy,” Wang says.

An exhibition of photos appearing in Strength To Be: Community Visions and Voices will be on display at the Flint Public Library through this year. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Flint Public Library and the Greater Flint Arts Council.

Photovoice has been conducted in China; South Africa; United Kingdom; Ann Arbor; Detroit; New Haven, Conn.; the San Francisco Bay area; and Flint. The Flint project was done in partnership with the Neighborhood Violence Prevention Collaborative. It was funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.