PhotoVoice: Telling Our Story

PhotoVoice is a method of research that uses participant photography to show an issue in society. It poses meaningful questions to the audience in the hopes of enhancing the community by finding possible solutions to the problem presented. On the Kruizenga Art Museum website, it says this about the project: “This exhibition offers a window into the lived experiences of seven LGBTQIA students at Hope College. The students’ photographs portray images of safety, identity, belonging and pride, as evident in their daily lives.”

In order to gain more insight into Hope College’s PhotoVoice, I interviewed Dr. Liz Sharda. Sharda is the faculty advisor for the exhibition and she has been an assistant professor in social work at Hope since 2017. 

Student piece titled, “Elena Identity”. Credit: Liz Sharda

First, Sharda discussed PhotoVoice, saying, “Photo methodology– I received training on it at MSU. It is looking over an opportunity to get to the population. It has been around for awhile; I was previously interested in it. A couple of research students helped me come up with the ideas and the research behind it.”

She then talked about how students could get involved. Sharda said, “So, the research term is ‘snowballing’, but essentially [students could get involved] through word of mouth. Some flyers went up around campus, which is how we got some of the students. Some of the other students were my previous students. The newsletters that went out to the student population included flyers about PhotoVoice. Overall there was a lot of verbal communication. I also met with all of the students who were interested and had one on one interviews with them, prior to the 6-week project.”

When conducting projects that center around raising often unheard voices, there can be insecurities about accomplishing the goal that made you want to start the project in the first place, and doing it in the correct manner. When Sharda was asked whether or not there were any difficulties with running the project, she said, “There have been little to no difficulties. Seven students participated, representing their fears. They were all super open and communicative about what they wanted to present. It was really wonderful to witness all of the ways that the students supported each other and their understanding for one another. There were a lot of relationships formed throughout this research process.”

Student piece titled, “EC Identity”. Credit: Liz Sharda

The last thing Sharda mentioned when I asked if she had anything else to say was, “One of the things I have been thinking about as the opening approaches is, is how this is such an opportunity. This was such an opportunity to change fears and how to embrace being different from your peers. I find myself coming back to see courage to challenge the campus community, in all of us, and how to understand them. There’s the photos and then the students also created captions to go with the photos to provide insight on their experiences. I am thankful for the students for being so honest with their experiences and being so open. It is a great opportunity to learn and to receive from the students around you.”

If you would like to visit this exhibit, it will be running through Feb. 15 at the Kruizenga Art Museum. 

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