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Photovoice: From Snapshots to Civic Action


Summary: Photovoice: Turning snapshots into healthier communities

With help from a $650,000, three-year grant from the Kresge Foundation, the University of South Carolina is teaming up with center city residents and the Columbia Housing Authority to strengthen the community. The grant is being used to help residents identify concerns, become more involved and create healthy spaces in their own neighborhoods.

The Photovoice project provides a voice for community members to identify opportunities for change. Their work is helping to shape the actions taken in the study's next stages, which include tackling the challenges or building on the strengths of the community.

“Photovoice is a participatory research method that combines photography and critical discussion with the goal of connecting with the people most affected by the issue,” says Dr. Darcy Freedman, assistant professor in the University’s College of Social Work.

“Then we use the photos, titles and captions created by the participants to inform social action.  They help drive the research and the work that will make their community better.”

See selected photos from the exhibition.

Freedman and Dr. Ronald Pitner, assistant professor in the College of Social Work, lead the project.  They recruited the residents from eight public housing communities in downtown Columbia and gave them digital cameras to document the strengths, weaknesses and concerns of their community.


The photos from the daily lives of Photovoice participants are on display in a special exhibit at the University’s McKissick Museum called, “From Snapshot to Civic Action: Creating Healthy Environments through Community Engagement.”  The free exhibit runs through March 26.

“I took a picture of a mural on a corner building, which has a positive message. But when you turn that corner, uncertainty is there.  Anything could be right around that corner waiting for you,” says Floyd Cutner, community leader and Photovoice participant.

Pitner explains that he and Freedman wanted to draw residents into a discussion about how to improve life for public housing residents and to give visitors a personal perspective of life in some of Columbia’s oldest public housing communities.

“Through this Photovoice process, we witnessed shy and introverted residents partnering with the more vocal residents to critically discuss their common perceptions of community strengths and concerns, as well as to identify their common vision for community change,“ Pitner says.

Cutner believes the project has already made a difference in his community.

“The majority of us didn’t even know each other.  Now we’ve come together.  We have different values, but we have the same goals.  We have different outlooks on things, but we’ve united to make a difference in our communities.”