February 26, 2014
Last night in the flurry of research and new potential and new ideas (arguably my favorite part of any new project…pursuing the many options is totally intoxicating for me. Nailing things down, figuring out the details, actually managing people through the details…yeah, I hate to say it given my current management position, but it’s a stretch for me. If I could just have crazy big ideas all the time and not have to worry about the actual “real life” part of things my life would be infinitely less stressful. But I digress…) Last night I came across this research concept and conveniently named non-profit called “photovoice.”
Photovoice is a participatory research method where people take photos of their daily experiences or their world or things that are important to them. Then the photographers construct narratives about the photos they’ve taken which when shared, give researchers vital information into how said people see the world, see places where activism needs to occur, etc. It’s often used with marginalized people groups as it is such a direct route to seeing the world through another person’s eyes. Photography falls into the canon of arts-based research, thus photovoice too falls under the umbrella.
In early brainstorming about how we could introduce the idea of arts-based research to the cohort, I came up with the idea of having the cohort use photovoice to take pictures of their lives/experiences as doctoral students in a distance education program as a sort of pre-presentation exercise. My partner thought it was a good idea, so hopefully we can get it off the ground.
It is interesting because in putting out this idea, I began to ponder what I would do if someone gave me this assignment. I am very comfortable taking photos of my daily life, so that wouldn’t be a problem, but what might be a problem is my own tendency to not take photos of my life as it is, rather to take photos of the “life of Lisa” as more of highly curated brand than as a warts and all person. Maybe it’s because I’m a designer or maybe it’s because I’m just super self conscious, but it almost seems that the true pictures of me wouldn’t be my own selfies or Instagram feed rather would be the ones others would take of me doing the very non glamorous real life stuff of my day, like being in my pajamas until noon with my head glued to my computer screen working or sitting at the piano twitching as I try to remember the correct notes or eating salad and spilling balsamic vinegar on my shirt for the thousandth time because I always think getting a napkin takes too much time. So I guess what I’m trying to get at is this idea of photovoice is legit a great one and yet like any art, it is not created in an unbiased, un-curated manner. Does that make it any less “true” or valid? Hmm…therein lies the deep question. On a personal note, is my life all the fancy cocktails and cute puppies and stilettos of my Instagram feed? It is…and yet it’s also the mundane and the ugly and even the broken which I never want to see reflected back to me. It’s an interesting tension and one that I am indeed uncomfortable facing because it feels so personal to me.
Images are power. Giving people the tools to create their own images is a powerful act because it says that they are worthy…that their images are worthy. Perhaps that is what is important more than the search for what is true. Perhaps the truth is in itself that everyone is worthy of editing the story they want to broadcast. Deep stuff indeed.