Picturing Reality: Power, Ethics, and Politics in Using Photovoice

  • Anne Harley University of KwaZulu-Natal


This article considers research into barriers to learning (including HIV/AIDS) in a small, rural town in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A variety of qualitative participatory research methods were used, including photovoice, a method in which research participants take photographs and then decode these together with the researchers. Rich, thick data was obtained using photovoice, and the researchers found this method particularly useful for dealing with the ‘unspoken’ and working with marginalised people. This method, particularly because of the emotive nature of photographs, is also a potentially powerful political tool in exposing and exploring deepening levels of poverty and crisis experienced by the marginalised in post-apartheid South Africa. Photovoice as a method, however, raises issues of ethics and researcher-researched power dynamics; in particular, whether it is ethically acceptable to use photographs from consenting participants in light of the imbalance of power between the subject and the researcher, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS. This article explores ethical and power issues in using the photovoice method.

Author Biography

Anne Harley, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Centre for Adult Education School of Adule and Higher Education Faculty of Education University of KwaZulu-Natal