Each photo has a story to tell

14 December 2015
Michelle Moore and Shelley Lees

STRIVE researchers use photovoice as a research methodology in the Maisha study.

These images, taken by women in Mwanza, Tanzania, portray different aspects of healthy relationships. Care, physical safety, affection, financial support and both men and women making a living – these are some characteristics of a good relationship, as seen through the women’s eyes.

Researchers are using a methodology called photovoice as part of the Maisha intervention and evaluation. This participatory technique encourages women to reflect critically on the strengths and problems in their relationships. It also yields a new and intriguing form of data for the Maisha evaluation. Are microfinance and/or gender training effective in reducing intimate-partner violence? This cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) is designed to answer this question, and photovoice will enrich the findings.

The process of storytelling through photography

PhotoVoice was created as a tool for 'participatory needs assessment' and supports community members to use images to communicate their priorities to decision makers. Adapted for Maisha, it is a health promotion strategy and encourages the participants to reflect critically on their lives.

Nine participants (six women from the intervention arm and three from the control arm) used cameras and smartphones for a week to document healthy relationships. In preparation, the women learned what photovoice is, why they are using it and how to seek consent from the subjects in the photographs. They also learned how to use the cameras correctly for the best results.

Afterwards, the women discussed their photographs during in-depth interviews, focusing on:

  • feelings they had during the process
  • issues they may have faced
  • what the photos mean to them

It emerged that the women really enjoyed participating in this photographic process and wanted to keep the cameras for longer to continue to document their lives.

Images and discussions as data

Maisha is implemented by the Mwanza Interventions Trial Unit (MITU) and evaluated by researchers from MITU and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). One of the study leads, Dr Shelley Lees, expects that data from the photovoice process – both the images and the ways that women explain them – will enrich understandings of IPV and of the programmes pathways to impact.

Initial reflections give an early indication of women’s perspectives on healthy relationships and on violence. Maisha encourages participants to think not only of physical violence but also of emotional and psychological violence and of harmful forms of control. It seems that photovoice gave participants a means to focus on other categories.  For instance, a participant photographer expressed and recognised violence in her photo of poor children picking charcoal.

We give our children violence."

A Maisha photovoice participant

Each photo has a story to tell. The practice of photovoice gives participants a better opportunity to tell these stories than would otherwise be possible.


Maisha aims to empower women economically and socially through microfinance and participation in gender training. The study builds on the success of an earlier programme in South Africa, IMAGE. Read more about Maisha here.


Photovoice: Using participatory photography in research – webinar with Cathy Vaughan

Mapping and Snapping – photo gallery of photovoice training

Special thanks to Charlotte Seeley-Musgrave and Vernoica Selestine for conducting the photovoice training in Tanzania.

Image: Participants’ photographs from the Maisha project.