Winds of Change Newsletter, August 2009 See sidebar for table of contents
Photovoice Participants Capture their Communities in Images
by Sara Busse, excerpted from April 12, 2009, Charleston Gazette
Maryland native Shannon Bell worked in the Mountain State for several years before heading to Oregon for graduate school. The images of Southern West Virginia stayed in her mind and tugged at her heart, urging her to come back to West Virginia to capture these images in some form.
That form is Photovoice. In September 2008, Bell gave digital cameras to 40 women from five communities in Southern West Virginia and asked them to take pictures to tell the story of their communities.
Each group met monthly for eight months to share their photographs, discuss common themes, create "photo stories" (photographs with written narratives), and develop project ideas to address problems they identified. Bell participated in the meetings, giving the women guidelines to organize their photographs and stories.
A selection of 100 photos and accompanying stories was presented in an exhibit at the Clay Center in Charleston from April 15 19.
Many of the women identified problems within their communities, and the project empowered them to visit their lawmakers to discuss the problems as well as to offer solutions and suggestions for community development.
"Its a neat way to communicate with policymakers," Bell explained of the Photovoice project. "Its empowering to the local people, as they got to say what their problems are instead of some outsider coming in and telling them."
"Photographs elicit a visceral reaction," Bell said. "The pictures impressed the legislators more than just facts and figures."
Joanne Frame, 59, and her daughter-in-law Tammy learned that firsthand. They took photographs of the deteriorating roads in Boone County.
"I was always so backward and all, but this encouraged me to speak up. I wanted to show the beauty of Boone County but wanted to show things that werent so pretty, like the roads," Frame said.
The Frames set up appointments with Delegate Ralph Rodighiero and Sen. Ron Stollings.
"These photo stories and Joanne and Tammys visit made quite an impression on these two legislators," Bell said. "The roads in that area had not been paved in over 25 years. The next day, as a temporary fix, the crews started patching the roads that Tammy, Joanne and others had photographed." More permanent work is planned.
"I felt that we really accomplished something that day," Frame said. "I thought, Well, theyll just forget us, but theyve kept in contact, and theyve called me several times." Stollings called Frame last week to let her know a six mile stretch of WV. 85, one of the worst roads the women photographed, was to be totally repaved this summer.
Many of the participants voiced concerns about the environment.
Kathy Stout expressed her fears about a coal mines slurry injection site behind her house in Cabin Creek.
Jane Linville took photos of fish she believes are toxic, caught in a stream near her home in Pond Fork.
Women from all five community groups took photos of litter along the roadsides and in popular dumping spots in their areas.
"They would like to see the Legislature pass a bottle deposit law because they feel that it would help clean up their communities," Bell said.
"Every time a participant created a photo story dealing with their desire for a bottle deposit, I printed it off and gave it to them so that they could mail it to the governor and to their legislators," she said.
"Many of them also called or e-mailed their legislators about the need for a bottle deposit."