Blog post: Photovoice and Lived Experience Workshop

20/02/24


 Photovoice and Lived Experience

 

EDIFY team members joined Tom Elkins from the PhotoVoice organisation for a day training workshop held at the University of Nottingham’s Arts Faculty to explore participatory photography for socially engaged projects in general, and projects on eating disorders in particular.

 

We were joined by photographer Dan Wheeler from Make it Easy Lab Nottingham, Mark Rawlinson and Simon Welham from the University of Nottingham, Ben Marshall from South Derbyshire Community Voluntary Support and ED researcher Vanessa Yim from Kings College London for a day of learning with EDIFY Youth Advisors Chris, Tallulah and Eleanor.

 

The workshop was organised by Tamsin Parnell, Heike Bartel and Fiona Stephens from EDIFY’s Workstream 1 (Lived Experience).

 

This workshop was funded by The University of Nottingham’s City as Lab as part of the ‘“Inside Out”: eating and embodiment in Nottingham through participatory photography’ project.

 

A group of people sitting at a table looking at a projector screen

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How I found the workshop:

·      Chris

The workshop was very insightful and eye opening to how photovoice can be used in multiple fields of work. Learning from each other and collaborating all our opinions together made for an engaging workshop. Brainstorming ideas collaboratively has given me some ideas and understanding for my own passion for photography and how it can be used differently in formats I hadn’t known of before.

·      Tallulah

Travelling to Nottingham was a huge adventure for me. Now that I consider myself to be 'post-recovery', I'm learning what it means to live a full life without the constraints of illness and treatment. So, just to be here has been a great part of that process. 

I've learnt a lot about the practicalities of ethical consideration for arts-based research. The PhotoVoice training really brought home to me just how complex this can get. I went into the training thinking that maybe we'd be told that a 'photo should speak for itself'. Therefore, I thought that a caption would be 'cheating', but I was relieved to hear that words can act as an anchor, ensuring that the conversation between participant and viewer is likely to be understood.

·      Eleanor

I found my trip to Nottingham very enjoyable. I thought today was really informative, and think there is definitely scope for participatory photography to be used as part of EDIFY.

·      Fiona

I enjoyed being able to take part in the workshop learning about both sides of being a participant and facilitator and to learn about other creative methods that can be used to capture and understand lived experience. 

·      Heike

Having Youth Advisors, EDIFY colleagues and others in a room together for a day was great to exchange ideas, come to know each other as learners and think about shared goals. 

·      Tamsin

I enjoyed learning about the difference between participatory photography and other types of photography, and thinking about how this might be applied ethically and sensitively to eating disorder research. The activities encouraging us to explore how we project our own experiences and biases onto photographs without context were really eye-opening. 

 

A group of hands holding pictures

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How Participatory photography could be used for understanding eating disorders:

·      Chris

I believe that we can use photovoice to link together photography and recovery and how each person’s experience and recovery journey can be shown in a more creative and expressive format. Showcasing photos that individuals have taken that signifies recovery for them gives deeper insight for others in recovery and for those that wish to understand eating disorders in more detail.

·      Tallulah

I think photography has potential to make a huge difference in how we understand eating disorders, particularly if we can move away from the clichés of scales, measuring tape, mirror selfies and 'what I eat in a day'. Instead, I'd like to see a focus on the 'in-between' moments of day-to-day life in illness and recovery. Particularly about what that means for people's relationships and evolving sense of self. In my journey back to health, the most profound moments that I wanted to document were those that anchored me to a part of myself beyond food, exercise and body. For example, capturing moments when I let myself be spontaneous, vulnerable and to connect with other people. These are the things that the eating disorder robbed me of, and now that they're gradually returning to my life I like the idea that photography could help me stay aligned to this new sense of presence and self. 

·      Eleanor

I think it would be particularly good to use images as part of an awareness campaign to be spread via social media. We discussed the typical media imagery around eating disorders of a picture of an apple, some scales, etc etc, and using photos produced from participatory photography to change this narrative could be very impactful. If this was the purpose of the project it would have to be conveyed to participants from the beginning. Different media outlets such as the BBC could be contacted to see if they would be interested in sharing images, perhaps as part of mental health awareness week or world mental health day for example, either as standalone pieces or using images to replace stereotypical ones that accompany stories about eating disorders.

·      Fiona

I think that participatory photography can be used as a tool for people with lived experience to both document and tell the story of their journey, which may be nuanced and complex. The photos that the author chooses to share can be used to open a dialogue with others, who may have similar or different experiences, as we learn about their point of view.

It is important to note that the method relies on having both the photo and a caption from the author, so we see and hear their voice without misinterpretation or bias as to what the image may mean, which gives further agency to lived experience voices.

·      Heike

The workshop led by Photovoice org’s Tom allowed us to discuss important questions around participatory photography as a tool to understand Eds better. 3 examples that were important for me are:

1.     Using photography by people with lived experience to share their experiences in a way that’s unique to them and engaging for others.

2.     Thinking about the relationships of ED and photos: ‘good, bad & ugly’, helpful/unhelpful/triggering/awareness raising.

3.     Practical considerations of how to tell a story through photography.

·      Tamsin

I think participatory photography (with contextual support provided by the photographer) has the potential to showcase diverse lived experiences in creative ways. It can transcend some of the complexities of verbalising lived experiences and open up opportunities for reflection.

 

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Highlight of the experience:

·      Chris

For me the highlight of the trip to Nottingham for me brang something new to my identity that I hadn’t really thought about before. Meeting new people with diverse experiences and expertise and travelling to a city that I’ve never been to before gave me a sense of freedom and liberation, further developed my identity outside of my illness.

·      Tallulah

My favourite part of this experience was visiting the 'Make it Easy' workshop - a beautiful photography studio that felt friendly and instantly put me at ease. I loved the peace of the darkroom and the soothing routine of the analogue photography process. Skills-based workshops such as those provided at Make it Easy could be a great way to facilitate creative expression, storytelling for change, and help people living with eating disorders connect to something outside the illness. I believe that this is key to moving into a more fulfilling life.

·      Fiona

I enjoyed learning something new together with the Youth Advisors.

·      Heike

Running around the university to take a photo of ‘a detail you think no one else will have noticed’ as part of our practical work and bumping into Tallulah, Chris and Eleanor doing the same.

·      Tamsin

My highlight was exploring the different photographs people were drawn to and listening to their interpretations of the images they had selected when given no contextual information. It was fascinating to consider the different perspectives people brought to the photos.

 

 

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Next steps

 

Watch this space! We are now planning on how we use photovoice within EDIFY.

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